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With concern rising that invasive Asian carp will make their way up the Mississippi River into some of Minnesota’s prime fishing waters, it appears increasingly likely that Congress will authorize the closure of a key navigational lock in Minneapolis, effectively ending the city’s days as a river port.

Carp fears likely to close Minneapolis river locks

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., introduced a measure that would close the Upper St. Anthony Lock in an effort to slow the migration of destructive Asian carp. (AP Photo/The Globe Gazette, Jeff Heinz)


U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., introduced a measure that would close the Upper St. Anthony Lock in an effort to slow the migration of destructive Asian carp. (AP Photo/The Globe Gazette, Jeff Heinz)

Congress poised to authorize the closure of city’s navigational lock  

With concern rising that invasive Asian carp will make their way up the Mississippi River into some of Minnesota’s prime fishing waters, it appears increasingly likely that Congress will authorize the closure of a key navigational lock in Minneapolis, effectively ending the city’s days as a river port.

A broad coalition of environmental organizations, angling groups, government agencies and others have advocated for the closure of the lock at Upper St. Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis, contending that such a measure is the surest way to prevent the further upriver spread of destructive silver and bighead carp.

“Lock closure is finally within reach,” said Whitney Clark, the executive director of the St. Paul-based Friends of the Mississippi River, one of many groups that have urged the state’s congressional delegation to authorize such an action.

In the past, stand-alone lock closure bills have failed to gain traction in Congress. Clark said that was largely because of opposition in Illinois, where powerful navigational interests feared that closing a lock to prevent the spread of Asian carp in Minnesota would create a precedent that could lead to the closure of the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal, a busy commercial waterway that connects the Great Lakes to the carp-infested Illinois River.

In a clever legislative sleight of hand, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., attached a rider to the massive Water Resources Development Act of 2013 (WRDA) that effectively divorced the lock closure issue from the carp issue.

Under the Klobuchar provision, which the Senate passed in May, the Upper St. Anthony Lock would be closed if cargo shipped through it fails to meet a minimum volume – 1.5 million tons per year – over five years. Because of a long term trend of declining use of the three remaining barge terminals in Minneapolis, the math would virtually assure closure of the lock, possibly in as little as one year.

Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL-Minneapolis) has introduced an identical measure in the House version of the WRDA, which the House is expected to act on in the coming months.

“Asian carp are not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. That provision appears not to be controversial,” observed Friends of the Mississippi’s Clark. “What is controversial is WRDA itself. Tea Party members think of it as a pork bill. We’re still not sure whether the House version will have the votes to clear.”

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fully supports lock closure at Upper St. Anthony Falls, said Nick Frohnauer, a DNR fisheries biologist and the agency’s point man on Asian carp. However, the DNR has also been working on a separate potential solution to limit the upriver spread of carp: the development of an experimental electronic barrier at Lock and Dam No. 1, the southernmost of the three locks located in Minneapolis.

“We’re taking this two-prong approach because we still don’t know what Congress is going to do,” said Frohnauer. “We need to find a way to slow these fish down until science or technology can catch up.”

This spring, the DNR signed a contract with the engineering firm Smith Root to design the barrier, even though it is still uncertain whether the Army Corps of Engineers will allow it. The Corps’ concerns include possible hazards to boaters and damage to the concrete structure caused by the electrical pulses intended to deter fish from entering the lock chamber, Frohnauer said.

The need for such a barrier could be rendered moot in the event WRDA passes. While WRDA only explicitly calls for the closure of the Upper St. Anthony lock, the two locks immediately down river – Lower St. Anthony and Lock and Dam 1 – would be obsolete for purposes of commercial navigation since there would be no access to the city’s remaining barge terminals, all of which lie above Upper St. Anthony and, thus, would become candidates for closure.

Frohnauer said the DNR had not settled on how it would proceed with its plans for an electronic barrier at Lock and Dam 1 under such a scenario.  One possibility: a similar barrier could be installed at the lock in Hastings (which could theoretically keep the fish from invading the Minnesota River) or even farther down river (which might protect the St. Croix River, even though some stray bighead carp have already been found there).

While the potential closure of the Upper St. Anthony lock has been met with cheers from a wide array of organizations, not everyone is happy.

“We’re not against it and we’re not saying ‘No.’ But what about the part of the river we like to play on? People are ignoring a very large and very valuable asset,” said Kevin Chapdelaine, a founder of Friends of Pool 2, an advocacy group that consists mainly of recreational boaters on Pool 2, the 33-mile stretch of river between Lock and Dam 1 and Hastings.

While closing the lock at Upper St. Anthony might prevent the carp from colonizing the state’s northern waters, Chapdelaine noted, it would do nothing to protect the state’s southern third, including the St. Croix River, the Minnesota River and the Mississippi south of Minneapolis.

Chapdelaine, who wants more effort focused on containing the fish further to the south, lamented the time already lost to inaction. “Two or three years ago, we could have done something in Keokuk,” Chapdelaine said in reference to the Iowa dam that previously marked the northern-most colonization of the Mississippi by Asian carp.

The lack of clear jurisdiction and coordination among multiple state and federal agencies has hampered progress in addressing the carp issue and represents “a total failure” of government, added Greg Genz, a co-founder of Friends of Pool 2.

For that reason, Genz and Friends of Pool 2 are focusing their efforts on supporting a bill authored by Rep. Betty McCollum that would assign principal responsibility for the carp issue to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Genz, who has long worked in river-related construction industry, said most of his friends in the barge business are resigned to the imminent closing of the locks in Minneapolis. The city has ambitious plans to redevelop its riverfront upriver from St. Anthony Falls, Genz noted, and those plans do not include any provisions for commercial ports.


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