UMWA Asks Corps To Restrict Recreational Lockages

The Waterways Journal
13 February 2012
By John Shoulberg

The Upper Mississippi Waterway Association is working to get the Corps of Engineers to take a proactive stance to block the advance of the Asian carp toward Minnesota waters, and to get recreational boaters involved in finding a solution.

In a resolution passed in late January, the association called for the Corps' Mississippi River Division to establish a protocol to restrict lock openings for recreational vessels at and above Lock 19 on the river.

Lock 19, at UMR Mile 364.3 at Keokuk, Iowa, has a 39-foot lift, which is considered high enough to keep fish from jumping over the barrier. In its resolution, UMWA said no breeding populations of Asian carp have been found in the Mississippi River upstream from that point, although large numbers have been found downriver.

By restricting the number of lockages, the Corps would limit the opportunities for carp to move northward, the association says.

The resolution calls for action much further downriver than other control measures that have been discussed, and also involves recreational boaters much more. UMWA noted that recreational boat traffic represents two-thirds of all lockages on the Upper Mississippi River.

"We know we're going to take flak for it," said Russell Eichman, UMWA executive director. He said the association, which represents commercial navigation interests on the Upper Miss, wants to get recreational boaters involved in finding a solution. "The recreational boating community has a big stake in this," he said.

Restricting recreational lockages at and above Lock 19 would ensure that both commercial and recreational interests share the responsibility to decrease the spread of the invasive species, he said.

In a UMWA newsletter to come out this week, Eichman wrote that some Minnesota agencies have suggested completely closing navigation locks at Upper and Lower St. Anthony Falls and Lock and Dam 1, all in the Twin Cities area.

While such a move might protect waters upstream of Minneapolis, it wouldn't do anything to protect other major rivers of Minnesota, such as the St. Croix and Lower Minnesota rivers, UMWA said.

In addition, it would drive cargo that moves through those locks onto high-ways, an average of 800,000 tons a year, the association said. If moved by trucks instead, that tonnage translates to 1,033 loaded trucks per week over the 34-week barge season, with associated increases in traffic congestion and carbon monoxide emissions.

Also, closing the upper-river locks would mean that recreational boaters would be confined to the navigation pools where they launch their boats; trips between pools would not be possible. "In 2011, a total of 6,970 recreational vessels transited the three Minneapolis locks compared with 2,996 commercial vessels," Eichman wrote. "Clearly a large number of anglers, pleasure boaters and boat builders will be impacted no matter if locks are closed or have restricted access."

Eichman noted that UMWA members are active participants in Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's Asian Carp Summit, which has focused on measures such as bubble barriers or electric barriers to prevent Asian carp from migrating northward — measures that would still allow commercial and recreational traffic to move.

Draft Legislation

Meanwhile, however, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) is preparing to introduce legislation that would call for the Corps to study closure of the three Minneapolis-area locks. A draft version of the bill calls for the Corps in consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service, along with other agencies — to conduct a six-month feasibility study to assess the environmental and economic impacts of lock closures.

A section of the draft bill was very problematical for commercial navigation, however, said Greg Genz, a river consultant who is vice president of UMWA.

Section 5 of the draft bill says the Corps "may" close the lock at Upper St. Anthony Falls if the secretary of the Army determines it's justified to manage the threat of Asian carp migration. But the draft goes on to mandate that the secretary "shall" close the lock if any live adult Asian carp are captured above Lock and Dam 2, or if any juvenile carp are captured above Lock and Dam 4.

Genz said there's little support in the Minnesota congressional delegation for Ellison's proposal; most members, Genz said, have been supportive of the efforts of Dayton's Carp Summit.

Federal Involvement

UMWA said another reason for its resolution was to emphasize what it calls the limited federal action in addressing the carp problem. So far, federal involvement has been limited to continuing the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study, leaving states to battle the larger issues of identifying breeding populations and financing construction of barriers, Eichman wrote.

An additional reason for the resolution, Eichman wrote in the UMWA news-letter, was to "urge the Corps of Engineers to recognize that recreational boaters are the largest users of commercial navigation locks by a ratio of almost five to one in the St. Paul District." The Corps, he wrote, has always said that its authorization and funding is limited to construction and maintenance of commercial navigation infrastructure.

"We understand and respect that limitation, and continue to recognize the Mississippi River as a multi-use resource to be commercially and recreationally avail-able while the search for a solution is found and put in place."