Brandon Road Agreement Remains Elusive
State legislatures in Michigan and Illinois have now both passed funding measures that will help fund construction of the Brandon Road Interbasin Project, designed to keep invasive carp from spreading from the inland waterways system to the Great Lakes.
However, a Project Partnership Agreement needed to move forward with construction still has not been signed.
During the last week of June, the Michigan legislature approved $64 million in its appropriations bill for fiscal year 2024. When combined with the $50 million approved by Illinois, those funds cover the $114 million required for the non-federal partner’s share of the cost for construction. The project received $226 million in federal funds in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and $47 million in the president’s budget for fiscal year 2023.
However, the state of Illinois, the signatory for the agreement with the Corps, still must sign a Project Partnership Agreement with the Corps to unlock federal funds to keep the project moving.
Without the signed agreement, construction funding cannot be touched. However, the Corps does have an incremental funding mechanism under which use of the non-federal project sponsor’s contribution toward the project’s design can be used. The Corps has used this mechanism twice so far, once to design the project to the 95 percent level, through June, and again recently to fund the project design of “increment 1A’ to completion by September 30, said Scott Whitney, chief of project management for the Rock Island District.
The project’s original timeline called for the Project Partnership Agreement for construction to have been signed in December 2022, but a draft of that agreement was not ready until December 16. That delayed the anticipated signing of the agreement until April.
“It’s been a lot of back and forth, a lot of discussions going on,” Whitney said.
Illinois representatives have been hesitant to sign the agreement. Loren Wobig, director of the Office of Water Resources within the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, has said some of the issues that must be overcome for the agreement to be signed include concerns about project costs, land rights and state regulatory permitting.
Additionally, there are real estate concerns as the riverbed on the lower half of the project site is privately owned.
The multi-layer project involves construction of an engineered channel, along with electric, sound and bubble barriers, an automatic barge-clearing deterrent and a flushing lock at Brandon Road Lock and Dam, located on the Des Planes River near Joliet, Ill. All are designed to work in tandem with an electric barrier in place in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in Romeoville, Ill., southwest of Chicago.
Whitney said the Corps last met with the Illinois representatives in person in Springfield, Ill., on June 8, and that the Corps is now waiting for a response from Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office.
“We’re waiting to see their latest revised version back after that meeting we had in June,” he said.
Meanwhile, Whitney said, concern is growing about the potential spread of Asian carp. Last year, the U.S. Geological Survey found two adult carp above the lock in Lake Calumet. One was alive, and one was dead. Sampling conducted the rest of the year did not locate more.
Earlier this year, a carp tagged with a monitoring device swam in and out of the approach channel for Brandon Road Lock several times, Whitney said.
“This is evidence these things are moving and in the immediate area,” he said.
He also added, “The sooner we can get some of these [barriers] in place, the better to keep them from making the jump.”
The Alliance for the Great Lakes, a nonprofit, nonpartisan environmental advocacy group focusing on the Great Lakes, praised the moves by the Michigan and Illinois legislatures and urged continued work toward the Project Partnership Agreement.
“Invasive carp pose a serious threat to the ecological health of the Great Lakes and the people and economies these waters support, including the region’s $7 billion fishing and $16 billion recreational boating industries,” said Molly Flanagan, chief operating officer and vice president for programs for the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “We are pleased that Michigan and Illinois have joined together to fund the local share of the Brandon Road project designed to keep Invasive carp from reaching the Great Lakes. All the local funding is now in place to pay for the construction of the project. We urge the state of Illinois to sign the Project Partnership Agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as soon as possible so that this critical work can continue uninterrupted.”
At the same time, the group acknowledged unresolved issues that are hampering the agreement.
“There has been no movement,” Flanagan said. “One of the main sticking points is the property that Midwest Generation owns that is needed to stage the project. The land may be contaminated, and Midwest Gen wants Illinois to take all the land and responsibility for any necessary clean up.”