Carp Barrier: Disco, Electric Or …?

Reps. Dan Fabian of Roseau, Denny McNamara of Hastings, Mark Uglem of Champlin

By Don Davis

Three options appear viable to help stop the advance of Asian carp into Minnesota, but after years of talk disputes remain about how to best halt the invasion.

Legislators on the House environment committee Tuesday night criticized the Department of Natural Resource’s  preferred barrier, a combination of light, sound and bubbles that one lawmaker called disco (because of the light and sound) and one called the Lawrence Welk method (due to the sound and bubbles).

Many legislators support an electric barrier, which they thought the DNR was pursuing.

A third suggestion emerged, making a Minneapolis lock and dam obsolete, allowing it to remain closed and, thus, stopping any fish from going upstream.

Several lawmakers were surprised by a DNR report this month, prepared by a consultant, that dismissed using an electric barrier at a St. Paul lock and dam. The report indicated electric barriers were too dangerous, so the DNR backed a sound, light and bubble barrier instead.

“I am completely dumbfounded by our complete reversal on electric,” an upset Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said. “We should be fighting our tail off to make them do it.”

Several lawmakers said they appropriated $7.5 million last year to begin work on an electric barrier.

The DNR’s Steve Hirsch said he did not think the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard would approve an electric barrier and the state would waste $1 million and several months preparing a proposal that ultimately would be rejected.

Geoff Griffin of G-Cubed, a company that helps build electric barriers, said the DNR consultant did a poor job of compiling its report, including not looking at barriers that would be similar to one proposed for the Mississippi River in St. Paul.

Griffin said his company and one he works with could build a barrier for $5 million, far less than up to $19 million that the DNR report says would be needed for the sound-bubble-light barrier. Such a barrier never has been built, and electric barrier supporters say their method is far more effective.

Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, suggested a third option that many lawmakers had not heard. She said a river boat company and many recreational boaters have said they do not need a downtown Minneapolis lock, leaving just two businesses that use it.

Wagenius suggested that if the state helps those businesses find other transportation routes, the dam could be closed because it would be obsolete. Several lawmakers said that sounded like the most economical plan.

However, Congress would have to approve it.

Committee Chairman David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said it is imperative that the Legislature decide “if we are going to let carp” swim into Minnesota streams and lakes.

The carp have huge appetites and many experts fear they will destroy existing water plant and animal populations. Some say it could cost state fishing, tourism and other businesses billions of dollars.

Dill said the Legislature must decide what route to take to stop the carp, which he called his committee’s top priority. He said that an Asian carp invasion eventually would affect every Minnesotan.

Asian carp are on the Mississippi in large numbers between Iowa and Illinois and some have been caught in Minnesota portion of the river, as well as the St. Croix. DNA of the fish has been found upstream from the Twin Cities, but some experts question whether that means fish already are there.

If the carp get upstream from a northwestern Twin Cities dam, they would have easy access to Mille Lacs Lake and eventually to most other northern Minnesota waters. They also would have easy access to the Minnesota River, which drains much of western and southern Minnesota.

Most experts say they do not know how to stop the carp from infesting the Minnesota and St. Croix rivers.