DNR contracts with engineering firm to design “sweeping” electronic fish barrier at Lock and Dam No. 1

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has contracted with the engineering firm Smith-Root to design a “sweeping” electronic fish barrier at Lock and Dam No. 1 on the Mississippi River.

The proposed barrier is intended to halt the spread of Asian carp.

Unlike other electronic barriers, a sweeping electronic fish barrier would not continuously be activated. Officials in the past have expressed safety concerns and worry over the corrosive effect on the lock of standard electric barriers.

Nick Frohnauer, DNR Invasive Fish/River Habitat coordinator, said a sweeping electronic barrier would serve to “scoot” invasive fish out of the lock when opened for river traffic.

A meeting between Smith-Root and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials is scheduled for June 19, according to an update by Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul.

The Corps must approve the use of the electronic barrier at Lock and Dam 1, also called the Ford Dam, before construction could begin.

The Corps’ review will include the use of an independent panel, according to Hansen.

How quickly approval could take place is unknown, Frohnauer noted.

If things progress as hoped, construction on the sweeping barrier could begin in late 2014.

The cost of construction is still being determined, Frohnauer said.

He stressed the barrier is new technology, and a lot of unknowns could surface.

“I wouldn’t put much stock in this,” he said of a possible 2014 construction date.

The current time line has Smith-Root completely finishing its design and submitting the plans to the DNR and Army Corps by next May.

Last legislative session, Republicans ridiculed an earlier proposal for construction of a light, bubble and sound barrier at the Ford Dam as a “disco” approach to combating Asian carp.

Although a recent joint testing effort by the DNR, the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center at the University of Minnesota, and U.S. Geological Survey failed to replicate 2011 testing results that showed positive hits for silver carp eDNA upstream of the Coon Rapids Dam on the Mississippi and elsewhere, the DNR wants to act speedily.

“We still feel a time crunch,” Frohnauer said.

Asian carp are being sporadically caught.

On April 19, 2012 a commercial fishermen working near Prescott, Wis., brought to the surface a 30-pound bighead carp from the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers.

The DNR, Hansen noted, believes the best way to keep Asian carp from moving upstream on the Mississippi is by closing the 50-year-old Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock in downtown Minneapolis.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar in May announced that her amendment allowing for closure of Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock passed the Senate.

It takes an act of Congress to close a lock.

According to Hansen, Klobuchar’s amendment permits closure of the lock, provided the five-year average tonnage of goods moving through it falls below 1.5 million tons.

Tonnage through the lock has been under 1 million since 2007, Hansen notes.

Closing the lock would have repercussions.

A Metropolitan Council study in July 2012, estimates a lock closure resulting in direct employment loss of 72 jobs.

Shifting the river barge traffic to roads would also cost the state about $21 million from 2012-40, according to the study.

But proponents of quick action against Asian carp argue allowing the invasive fish to spread threatens the environment, fishing and Minnesota’s tourist industry.

The DNR would like to close the lock and erect a barrier at the Ford Dam, Frohnauer said.

But, the lock closure initiative in the U.S. House could take a lot more time, he noted.

Work upstream at Coon Rapids Dam may be completed by next year to make it a stouter fish barrier.

Some $16 million was slated toward the project.

Coon Rapids Dam is considered critical in preventing Asian carp from invading the Upper Mississippi River, the Rum River, and Lake Mille Lacs.

Tim Budig can be reached at tim.budig@ecm-inc.com.

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