NY to join fight to keep carp from Great Lakes

A bighead carp, a species of the Asian carp, swims in a new exhibit that highlights plants and animals that eat or compete with Great Lakes native species Thursday, Jan. 5, 2006, at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

January 7, 2010 1:41:22 PM PST
A legal battle intensifies to close Chicago's Ship and Sanitary Canal in the fight against the destructive Asian carp.New York's attorney general is the latest to join a lawsuit filed by Michigan in an effort to keep the destructive Asian carp from making their way into the Great Lakes. Ontario, which is Canada's only province that borders the Great Lakes, also filed a motion in support of the lawsuit to close Chicago area locks.

While the legal battle is heating up, so is the fear over how many Illinois businesses and jobs would be lost if the Chicago area waterways were cut off from Lake Michigan.

Rentner Marine Service is the oldest boat yard in the Chicago area. Family owned since 1941, Rentner stores more than 200 boats that owners keep in all of Chicago's harbors during the summer.

"Ninety percent of boaters in this system are working class people. They work and save money to go boating. They're not deep pocket people. This is their sport," said Eric Rentner, Rentner Marine Service.

Wayne Shibley stores his boat there. Shibly not only is a boat owner, he makes a living restoring wood boats. Shibley and the Rentner family fear they will be out of business if several states win a legal battle to close the Chicago area locks.

"A lot of the yards that I work at are on the river and I wouldn't be able to work there if they're all closed," said Shibley.

After one Asian carp was able to get past an electronic barrier in a canal leading to Lake Michigan, the State of Michigan filed suit to have two Chicago area locks closed. Several more Great Lakes states joined in. The fear -- that the Asian carp, which eats huge amounts of plankton to starve out other species, will destroy a several billion dollar a year fishing industry. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin says lawsuits are not the answer.

"Let's try to avoid lawyers, courts if we can. Let's find a solution that works, that keeps the jobs and our economy moving but acknowledges this is a threat to Great Lakes," said Senator Durbin.

Besides the impact on boat storage companies, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce says closing the locks would devastate the state's economy. Millions of tons of shipments into the Chicago area, including cement, salt for roads, coal, steel and several more products, are transported by barge. Rentner says there must be a better solution than closing locks.

"We've been here for a long time; we have had a lot of battles. But this one, that I don't know-- a fish. I don't know if we're going to beat this one," said Rentner.

The U.S Supreme Court is expected on Friday to consider the state of Michigan's request for a preliminary injunction. On Tuesday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is expected to file a brief responding to the lawsuit.

Next week, Senator Durbin indicated that federal, state and local officials will come together to publically address the issue.