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Minnesota House split on how to slow Asian carp invasion

ST. PAUL -- Three options appear viable to help stop the advance of Asian carp into Minnesota, but after years of talk disputes remain about how to best halt the invasion.

Legislators on the House environment committee Tuesday night criticized the Department of Natural Resource's preferred barrier, a combination of light, sound and bubbles that one lawmaker called disco (because of the light and sound) and one called the Lawrence Welk method (due to the sound and bubbles).

Many legislators support an electric barrier, which they thought the DNR was pursuing.

A third suggestion emerged, making a Minneapolis lock and dam obsolete, allowing it to remain closed and, thus, stopping any fish from going upstream.

Several lawmakers were surprised by a DNR report this month, prepared by a consultant, that dismissed using an electric barrier at a St. Paul lock and dam. The report indicated electric barriers were too dangerous, so the DNR backed a sound, light and bubble barrier instead.

"I am completely dumbfounded by our complete reversal on electric," an upset Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said. "We should be fighting our tail off to make them do it."

Several lawmakers said they appropriated $7.5 million last year to begin work on an electric barrier.

The DNR's Steve Hirsch said he did not think the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or Coast Guard would approve an electric barrier and the state would waste $1 million and several months preparing a proposal that ultimately would be rejected.

Geoff Griffin of G-Cubed, a company that helps build electric barriers, said the DNR consultant did a poor job of compiling its report, including not looking at barriers that would be similar to one proposed for the Mississippi River in St. Paul.

Griffin said his company and one he works with could build a barrier for $5 million, far less than up to $19 million that the DNR report says would be needed for the sound-bubble-light barrier. Such a barrier never has been built, and electric barrier supporters say their method is far more effective.

Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, suggested a third option that many lawmakers had not heard. She said a river boat company and many recreational boaters have said they do not need a downtown Minneapolis lock, leaving just two businesses that use it.

Wagenius said if the state helps those businesses find other transportation routes, the dam could be closed because it would be obsolete. Several lawmakers said that sounded like the most economical plan.

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.