Thursday, September 09, 2010

'Carp czar' greeted with some skepticism

By Jamey Dunn

The selection of a federal so-called carp czar to help solve the debate over the best way to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp was met with concern from stakeholders on both sides of the issue.

President Barack Obama chose John Gross, former head of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana Wildlife Federation, to coordinate the federal response to the potential spread of the invasive species into the Great Lakes.

Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota and Pennsylvania are seeking an injunction in federal court to have the Chicago’s navigational locks closed immediately to keep the carp from reaching the lakes. Hearings for the case are expected to wrap up tomorrow. Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox argues that the carp, which eat plankton that serves as a food source for other species, could decimate the fishing industry and cause serious environmental and economic damage. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice denied his request to close the locks.

Cox has said several times that he is worried Obama will not remain impartial in the issue because it involves his home state. "We hope [Gross] shows independence from what is essentially a Chicago-based White House, one which protects Illinois' interests over those of the Great Lakes. Will he even be allowed to advocate for closure of the locks? Time will tell, but the experts say we don't have much time left," John Sellek, a Cox spokesperson, said in a written statement.

Mark Biel, chairman of UnLock Our Jobs — an industry group that opposes the closure of the locks — said Gross is the best possible choice for the job; both because of his experience and his distance from the issue. “They couldn’t choose somebody from Illinois. They couldn’t choose somebody from Michigan,” he said.

However he said he is worried that officials do not understand how seriously lock closure would damage the shipping industry and other businesses that rely on the Chicago canals to transport goods and commodities. He added that closing the locks would also lead to flooding and waste water management issues.

"While I respect the administration's efforts on this issue, I believe the only way to achieve a long-term, comprehensive solution to this problem is by allowing all relevant stakeholders to come to the table and voice their concerns. I can only hope that is exactly what Mr. Goss intends to do moving forward,” Biel said in a written statement.

U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin said a “carp czar” would help organize national efforts to address a problem that affects several states. Durbin is pushing legislation that would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a study on carp containment. “The Asian carp threatens the native fish and natural wildlife of the lake and in turn, the economy of the entire Great Lakes region. If allowed to enter Lake Michigan, the Asian carp have the potential to not only to devastate a national ecological treasure but to debilitate a multibillion-dollar fishing industry and significantly impair the tourism industry as well,” Durbin said in a written statement.

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