MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Momentum is building in Congress to close the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam in Minneapolis to protect Minnesota's northern waters from invasive Asian carp.
A U.S. House panel decided Thursday to incorporate the lock closure into legislation that funds ports and water projects across the nation. The water resources bill is expected to pass with bipartisan support.
River industry groups are fighting the lock closure, saying it would hurt the region's economy and do little to stop the northern advance of Asian carp.
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democratic lawmaker from northern Minnesota, and fellow Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison of Minneapolis have been working to move the lock closure through Congress.
"It's a rather dramatic step that we have to take," Nolan told the Star Tribune (http://bit.ly/18FCysg ). "We're not sure if this will work, but we sure feel like we have to try to do something."
A pair of gravel and scrap metal yards on the Minneapolis waterfront still use the lock, but local officials are eager to redevelop the city's industrial port, and a riverboat company has already been relocated downriver.
"We see it as a fairly simple and inexpensive solution, compared to what we're going to have to do downstream to stop the carp," said Irene Jones, program coordinator for Friends of the Mississippi River, an environmental group that supports closing the lock. "It's sort of a no-brainer."
Closing the lock would cut wages and economic output by more than $40 million, said Al Christopherson, a southern Minnesota farmer who leads the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association, which represents barge companies and other industrial users. A Metropolitan Council report has said 72 jobs would be lost.
But proponents of the closure say the effect on a handful of Minneapolis companies pales in comparison to what could happen to the state's $11 billion-a-year tourism industry if Asian carp, an invasive species that crowds out native fish, begin breeding in Minnesota's lakes and rivers.
This summer, the carcass of a silver carp was found at the base of a dam in Winona — the furthest upstream a silver carp has been discovered in the Mississippi River.
In an effort to blunt industry opposition, the pending legislation would close the lock on the basis of limited use, not the threat of carp.
"They're looking at it more as an economic issue," said Marc Smith of the National Wildlife Federation.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources supports the closing, but some federal officials say the danger to northern Minnesota has been exaggerated.
Judy DesHarnais of the St. Paul district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the locks system, said that the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and other popular state waters aren't connected to the Upper Mississippi River watershed.
Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com