WJ Editorial
WJ Editorial

Brandon Road Boondoggle Goes To Congress

As expected, Corps commanding general Todd Semonite signed the Chief’s Report on the Brandon Road Recommended Plan for an array of carp-fighting measures and sent the proposal to Congress.  As this page noted in December, the Rock Island District didn’t leave a single bell or whistle out of this kitchen-sink approach. All the proposed carp-fighting measures were thrown together, despite there being no study that evaluates them as a group. The Coast Guard noted in December 2016 that “no model exists today that combines the different invasive species control measures into a detailed operational scenario,” and that remains true today.

Are all these measures needed? Of the mere six experts the Corps consulted, three of them confirmed that under the Nonstructural Option—that is, continuing existing anti-carp measures without building any new structures—the chances of Asian carp establishing themselves in the Great Lakes by the year 2071 were less than 5 percent. This page also pointed out that the Fish and Wildlife Service stated (in November 2016) that between 1999 and 2015, 236,171 barges have passed through Brandon Road Lock and Dam with no evidence of Asian carp passing through with any of those barges. That also remains true.

The AWO notes that the Corps uses the word “uncertainty” 88 times in the plan. There are many reasons to think the Brandon Road plans—if and when they are funded and implemented—could prove to be a costly and frustrating chokepoint that will slow down a big chunk of the 1.7 billion tons of freight that the Illinois Department of Transportation estimates will be moving through the state by 2040, much of it by barge.

The plan’s cost has already ballooned to almost $800 million from $275 million. Those costs are sure to swell further if this plan is funded and built. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Recommended Plan simply throws money at Asian carp—without real scientific evaluation—to placate politicians and anti-carp activists.

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The Recommended Plan itself states that any future evaluation to address “site-specific operation considerations…cannot be addressed until after construction.” Is this how the Corps usually operates—you have to build it to find out whether or not it works? The AWO’s 12-page comment letter replies that “building something before you know if you can use it is not an efficient use of taxpayer money.”

That the plan will be funded and built is by no means a lock. For one thing, Illinois has objected to its portion of the cost-share. It’s not clear yet how much support the plan has in Congress outside of the Great Lakes states.

Wasting taxpayers’ money is one thing. It happens every day in Washington. Much more serious are the safety issues that have not been addressed, most of which center on continuous operation of the electric barriers.

During the comment process, the Corps sent out conflicting messages on this issue. The current electric barrier system near Romeoville, Ill., is the only location where the Coast Guard has stated it will not rescue individuals who fall into the water, due to the risk to Coast Guard personnel. The AWO’s letter urged the Corps to “correct the record and state that it will not, under any circumstances, operate that electric barrier while vessels are near or transiting the engineered channel or lock to ensure the safety or mariners.”

If Congress is determined to fund this expensive boondoggle that evidence strongly suggests is not necessary, it wouldn’t be the first time. But it should at least ensure the safety of mariners.