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Asian carp fight gets local; barrier proposed for Mississippi

ST. PAUL - Minnesota's battle plan to fight an Asian carp invasion includes multiple barriers to keep them from advancing upstream along the Mississippi River and into most of the state's waters.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said that between state dollars he will expects state legislators to approve early next year and some federal funds already available, there should be enough money to meet the immediate needs of the fight.

Gov. Mark Dayton wants quick action and McNamara, chairman of the House natural resources committee, said he will do everything he can to comply.

The plan Dayton aides released during a Dec. 20 invasive species summit shows about $22 million of immediate work on the Mississippi near the Twin Cities, which could prevent the destructive carp from swimming into the Minnesota, St. Croix and northern Mississippi rivers, and from them into pretty much every water body in the state.

The use of sound or bubble barriers is proposed for a St. Paul lock and dam and another one, which McNamara said should be at Hastings. A Hastings barrier would slow the advance of carp into both the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, he said.

The state Department of Natural Resources suggested a St. Paul barrier and a more expensive one at the mouth of the St. Croix, just upstream from Hastings. DNR also wanted a Minneapolis lock closed, but Congress would need to approve that.

The DNR's Tim Schlagenhaft said electric barriers like McNamara wants are more effective than those that use bubbles or sound to stop fish from swimming upstream, but they are dangerous to people and far more expensive to build and operate.

The immediate steps are just a beginning of a carp fight, and McNamara said they come with no guarantee of success.

Dayton showed frequent episodes of impatience during the summit, saying that the situation is urgent and state and federal officials should move against the carp right away.

"Sometimes I find the DNR gets so narrow minded," he said, telling the agency to consider new technologies and not take so long to begin the anti-carp battle.

At one point, Dayton snapped at Schlagenhaft after the DNR fisheries expert told about a barrier study. "You are eight years out of date," Dayton said.

Paul Labowitz of the National Park Service said he and an Army Corps of Engineers official plan to sit down soon to figure out innovative ways to stop fish from getting into locks, or kill them once they do get in.

Tom Crump of the Corps told the summit that the state could install barriers in locks his organization controls, which would be cheaper than installing barriers across an entire river. Schlagenhaft said the barriers could be installed within six months.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.