Federal officials announced an expansive and long-awaited plan last week to prevent Asian carp from taking over the Great Lakes. And one of the projects playing a major role is in Fort Wayne.
Meanwhile, a U.S. House panel approved a proposal that would cut about 80 percent of the funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, an effort to correct some of the most serious environmental problems threatening the Great Lakes, including the spread of Asian carp. If those steep cuts make it through Congress, they could jeopardize efforts to protect the lakes and $7 billion-a-year Great Lakes fishing industry threatened by the invasive species.
The $50 million federal plan to halt the spread of carp includes dozens of projects to reinforce physical and electrical barriers as well as field-testing innovative approaches such as using water guns or pheromones to attract and then kill the carp. The plan comes from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which is led by John Goss, a former director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Reinforcing the earthen berm in Eagle Marsh is one of those projects included.
Asian carp are found in the Wabash River about 30 miles southeast of the marsh. Under the right flood conditions, the carp could come up the Little River, enter Eagle Marsh and possibly reach the Maumee River, which feeds into Lake Erie.
The berm in Eagle Marsh is about 8 feet tall and extends more than 9,000 feet along the Graham-McCulloch Ditch on the southwest side of Fort Wayne. The plan calls for raising it about 2 feet above the 100-year flood level. It was one of many options investigated by the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers.
“Obviously, it would be great if this problem wasn’t happening in Eagle Marsh and in our community - or any community,” said Betsy Yankowiak, director of preserves and programs for the Little River Wetlands Project, the nonprofit that owns the marsh. “Asian carp are just spreading out of control. It’s unfortunate that we have to do this. But redoing the berm was one of the options of that was most favorable to our organization because it was the least intrusive and destructive.”
Adding to the berm will mean the destruction of a significant amount of planting that the organization has worked on to restore wildlife habitat.
“We’ve been working with volunteers for years,” Yankowiak said. “It will be a little sad to see some of our effort diminished, but it’s for a good reason.”
It is estimated the project will cost $5.7 million to $7.2 million.
“Everyone is really trying to make cuts. If this project is still in the hopper, that just speaks to the importance of this project,” Yankowiak said. “Eagle Marsh is number 2 just below Chicago out of 20 plus that are on the list of sites that are important to stopping Asian carp’s migration to the Great Lakes.”
The marsh, located near Engle Road and Fox Island County Park, is one of three priority projects identified in the federal plan.
Measures to abate the Asian carp, as well as addressing other environmental problems that are threatening the Great Lakes, are also part of the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. That program was established in 2009 by President Barack Obama but was based on a list of priorities created four years earlier by then-President George W. Bush. The program had $285 million this year. If the House committee’s proposed cuts are approved by Congress, the allocation would drop to $60 million.
According to Rep. Dave Joyce, an Ohio Republican on the subcommittee authorizing the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, studies show that more than 1.5 million jobs - and $62 billion in wages - are connected to the Great Lakes. Ensuring adequate funding for projects that protect the Great Lakes is imperative.
— The Journal Gazette