For the first time in the Midwest, an old Superfund site has been declared ready for re-use. But funding questions continue to cloud the future of the toxic waste clean-up program. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
For the first time in the Midwest, an old Superfund site has been declared ready for re-use. But
funding questions continue to cloud the future of the toxic waste clean-up program. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
The Environmental Protection Agency says a former landfill in Antioch, Illinois is now clean
enough to be used as community athletic fields. The private sector paid most of the clean-up
cost. That’s a typical scenario, as nationally, private polluters pay 70-percent of the Superfund
But Congress refuses to bring back a corporate tax that paid the rest of the cost, meaning
the EPA has to set aside public dollars for restoration work. Tom Skinner is the EPA’s Midwest
Administrator. He says the Bush administration is still committed to clean-ups, but is dealing
with several large sites.
“The question is how much money can the country afford to devote to those clean-ups and how
quickly can we get them done as a result.”
But environmental groups say the job would be easier if the White House and GOP leaders on
Capitol Hill would bring back the Superfund tax.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.
The Selkirk Lighthouse circa 1860-1870. (Photo courtesy of Jim Walker)
Lighthouses often hold a special place in people’s hearts. They’re viewed as symbols of America’s maritime history. The beacons guiding sailors back to safe harbor are metaphors for guiding lights in our lives too. That might be why the idea of spending a little time living in one of the historic structures is so appealing to many people. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Skye Rohde talked with the owners of a lighthouse that’s now operated as a place to vacation:
Lighthouses often hold a special place in people’s hearts. They’re viewed as symbols of
America’s maritime history. The beacons guiding sailors back to safe harbor are metaphors for
guiding lights in our lives too. That might be why the idea of spending a little time living in one
of the historic structures is so appealing to many people. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Skye Rohde talked with the owners of a lighthouse that’s now operated as a place to vacation:
The Selkirk lighthouse sits at the mouth of the Salmon River on Lake Ontario. It’s scenic,
although the area is not very well known – except to salmon fishers. But some people, once they
visit find they keep coming back. Jim walker was one of those people.
“I didn’t move to Pulaski to buy the lighthouse at all. I was living and working quite comfortably
with a family in a lovely location in Maine and came out here on a fishing trip. A friend of mine
got ahold of me and said, ‘We have to go to a place called Pulaski, New York.’ I said, ‘Pulaski,
New York. Now what’s a good reason for going there?'”
Walker came to Pulaski on Veteran’s Day weekend in 1986 with 10 friends. But when the time
came for them to leave, half the group didn’t want to go.
“They were just having such a great time. We were fishing in the snow in the river, catching
steelhead, having a ball. And none of us had had the chance to experience anything like this
A couple of the men started talking about investing in the area’s hospitality industry. They
looked at some properties over the winter, and when the Selkirk lighthouse came up for sale in
1987, walker made an offer.
Sixteen years later, walker has turned the old lighthouse into short-term rental housing. It’s
become a popular stop with a 98-percent occupancy rate and visitors from over 100 countries.
Since then the lighthouse has operated as a lifesaving station, private residence, resort and
“designated historic landmark.” In 1989, the coast guard reactivated the Selkirk lighthouse
The lighthouse itself is a 3-story rectangular stone building with an octagonal glass lantern house
on top. Wayne Wheeler is President of the San Francisco-based U.S. lighthouse society.
Wheeler says the Selkirk lighthouse is one of a dying breed.
“It’s a unique structure in that it has the old-style lantern on the tower. There are only three or
four of those remaining in the country.”
Only 20 of the 600 lighthouses across the nation offer some kind of lodging, either in the actual
working lighthouse or in keepers’ quarters nearby.
Richard Moehl is President of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, which
encourages lighthouse preservation and restoration on the Great Lakes. Moehl says people
appreciate the uniqueness of spending the night in a lighthouse.
“People just love to be able to say ‘I did this, and at a historic lighthouse,’ versus a walk-through,
one-time light station. You have an opportunity to work there and live there, eat there, cook
And people will pay for the chance to do just that.
Nicole Paternaster is Manager of the Selkirk lighthouse and has worked there off and on for 15
years. Walking in through the kitchen door, she points out the building’s attributes.
Bathroom, stand-up shower and the kitchen area are mainly what make up the addition part of the
lighthouse. And here’s the stone wall that I just absolutely love. And all the amenities of home
away from home… (fades under)
It’s homey and relaxed. The floorboards in the first-floor bedroom are original. Paternaster and
walker are working to replace the windows with original-style ones, whenever the lighthouse isn’t
The staircase to the third floor is blocked off right now, since a couple of stairs up to the
lighthouse are too rickety to use. But you can get to the top. Nicole Paternaster led me, creeping
past the roof rafters and around the spiral staircase, through a wooden portal and then up a metal
ladder leaned against the wall. At the top we popped up in the lantern room itself.
“You can see the river, you can see the lake, you can see what’s called Deer Creek Marsh. But it
is absolutely gorgeous. And of course, today it’s a windy day, so you can see all the waves
breaking out there. I just love it.”
The guests love it too. New Jersey resident Len Levonaitis and his family have fished in the area
for 15 years.
“When I go on vacation, I don’t want to be in the midst of the craziness, you know, downtown
Pulaski, where the salmon fishing is hot and heavy and there are hundreds of guys there. It’s nice
to be able to go out and find a place like the lighthouse. What’s nice about it is that it’s right
there, you know, on the lake. You can see the fish coming in.”
Like Levonaitis, many guests find themselves visiting again. Some have already booked their
stays for 2004 and even 2005.
Jim Walker says owning the lighthouse has been a valuable experience, but after 16 years he’s
ready to pass the torch on to somebody else and focus on other business.
“I’ve reached the hard conclusion of trying to recruit a replacement. No, that’s not just put a
piece of property on the market for sale, but it’s to recruit someone who basically has a younger
body, a lot of motivation and similar ideals to try to pick up and carry the ball from here.”
Walker has advertised the property in different lighthouse publications. It’s listed at one-and-a-
quarter million dollars. So far, there have been a few inquiries.
“It’s a very, very unusual place, one of the last of its kind. That’s, that’s the type of thing we
need to polish up and pass along to the best of our ability.”
Walker says he’s sure the right person will emerge to keep the light shining and the door open to
future guests at the Selkirk lighthouse.
For the great lakes radio consortium, I’m Skye Rohde.
There were millions of acres of prairie in the Midwest when white settlers arrived in the early 1800s. Today, only a tiny fraction of these native grasslands remain. In recent years, there’s been renewed interest in restoring old prairies and creating new ones. But when financial realities conflict with land protection efforts, even the most devoted prairie lovers must make a difficult choice. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tom Springer reports:
There were millions of acres of prairie in the Midwest when white settlers arrived in the early
1800s. Today, only a tiny fraction of these native grasslands remain. In recent years, there’s
been renewed interest in restoring old prairies and creating new ones. But when financial realities
conflict with land protection efforts, even the most devoted prairie lovers must make a difficult
choice. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tom Springer reports:
This is not a sight that Bev Villareal ever wanted to see. On her restored prairie near Plainwell,
Michigan, there’s a dozen men and women armed with shovels and buckets. They’re digging up
native plants by the hundreds and carting them off in a pick-up truck.
Bev Villareal settles into her favorite chair and lights up a Capri Super-Slim cigarette. The scene
from her back window would look familiar to a 19th century pioneer. It’s a real prairie, with
plenty of rare flowers and enough tall grass to fatten a buffalo. But with her chronic lung disease,
Villareal can’t get out much to enjoy it.
“Well, my health has been going down, and I do have some bad habits, health-wise. So I know
that it’s in my will that’s the kids are to sell the farm, so, yeah, because I know this place will be
developed and that’s it.”
Villareal says she bought the farm “for a steal” in the early 1960s. Back then, she spent her days
cooped up in a meat-packing plant. And this was her country retreat. She loved outdoor work.
She built a fieldstone wall with her own hands. And she especially loved to raise flowers. She’d
sell cut daffodils, iris and zinnias from a little table in her driveway.
“I belong to gardening club here in Plainwell, and I always tell them I’m not a gardener, I’m a
Then in 1990, Villareal’s daughter introduced her to Bob Pleznac. At first, they weren’t exactly
kindred spirits. Bev Villareal’s a blue-collar type. She likes flowers because they’re pretty. Bob
Pleznac’s a bankruptcy attorney. He calls plants by their Latin names. And he knows more than
you’ll ever want to hear about prairies. Yet when Pleznac visited Villareal’s land, he saw the
potential for a new kind of natural garden.
“Just looking at the property and seeing what it looked like, and knowing Bev’s love for flowers,
I knew that the prairie plants would love this land and that Bev would love the prairie plants.”
And he was right – Bev loved the idea. When Bev and Bob first planted their prairie, it covered
an area the size of a small house. Today, it spreads across about seven acres of rolling hillside.
On this fall afternoon, clumps of native grass the color of buckskin tremble in the breeze. Dried
stalks of purple, yellow and orange wildflowers linger on as reminders of summer’s glory.
And now, autumn has come for Bev Villareal and her prairie. Neither she nor anyone else she
knows can afford to save it. Once the property’s sold, it will probably sprout quarter-million-
dollar houses instead of black-eyed susans.
But the volunteers out in her backyard are working to see that this prairie survives. Christy
Chapman is with the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy. She’s pulling out clumps of
wildflowers and stuffing them into a plastic trash bag.
“Yeah, It’s like prairie in a box, we box up something and we might have three or four good
plants all living together and we dig up the plug, put in a bag, cart it down the street and plop it
back in. So it should do real well.”
The volunteers are excited by their work. Yet Bob Pleznac just can’t bring himself to pick up a
shovel. For him, it’s a necessary, but bittersweet undertaking.
“I hate to think about this beauty being paved over, but we’ve got a terrific opportunity now.
This is harvest time. It’s time to get the seed off this prairie, as much as we can, with all the
volunteers that have come in here from the Wild Ones Club and from the Southwest Michigan
Land Conservancy, and we’re going to be able to do with these plants what we set out to do.”
The plants are being moved to the Chipman Preserve. It’s a rolling, 180-acre parcel near
Kalamazoo. It’s owned by the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy. It doesn’t look like a
prairie yet, but Bev Villareal’s plants will help change that. Nate Fuller is a Conservancy staff
member. In his mind’s eye he can see a prairie here. He also envisions an oak savanna, a wild
grassland dotted with trees.
“Well, here we’re standing on the edge of what is going to be the boundary between our savanna
and prairie. You can see there’s some oaks up here, you might hear the wind going through those
leaves there, there’s some staghorn sumac around, there’s also quite a bit of scotch pine hanging
on, a bunch of black cherries. But mostly it’s pretty open, you can see some rolling landscape,
and we’re gonna keep this pretty open.”
Survey records from the 1800s show that this site was once a prairie. With careful management,
that age-old landscape will return. For Nate Fuller and his transplant crew, the hard part is
knowing when to stop.
“It’s kind of like being a kid in a candy store, with free rein, I tell ya (laughs) there’s so many
neat plants. It’s ‘Oh, we gotta get that one, we gotta get that one, we can’t stop now!’ and
watching all the volunteers go, I’m trying to tell them, ‘The trucks loaded, we gotta go,’ and they
say ‘No, we can’t leave any behind! And it’s ‘will be back, will be back, don’t worry.'”
Some prairie plants can live to be 100 years old. And the lands protected by the Southwest
Michigan Land Conservancy are permanently restricted from development. So the flowers and
grasses from Bev Villareal’s property will be safe here. And at this new address, her prairie
legacy will bloom for generations yet to come.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tom Springer.
Environmentalists scored a huge victory at the polls earlier this month, when a Midwestern city and its surrounding townships agreed to a tax to preserve a belt of green space. The plan marks one of the first locally funded efforts in the Midwest to fight sprawl. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Halpert takes a look at whether this plan will fulfill its promise to curb unplanned growth:
Environmentalists scored a huge victory at the polls earlier this month, when a Midwestern city and its
surrounding townships agreed to a tax to preserve a belt of green space. The plan marks one of the first
locally funded efforts in the Midwest to fight sprawl. Sprawl often occurs when developers pave over
farmland and other natural resources to create strip malls and subdivisions. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Julie Halpert takes a look at whether this plan will fulfill its promise to curb urban sprawl:
Voters in Ann Arbor, Michigan gave the nod to a 30 year tax to preserve roughly 8,000 acres of land. It’s
one of the first measures in the Great Lakes states to set up a major regional funding plan for curbing
growth. Sprawl is prominent in the area and Ann Arbor and its surrounding townships will share the
preservation costs. The proposal will allow the city to purchase easements on land. That will prohibit the
land’s future development and preserve it.
Elizabeth Humphrey is the director of the Growth Management Leadership Alliance in Washington, D.C.
She says citizens are fed up with seeing houses overtake park lands. So anti-sprawl initiatives, like Ann
Arbor’s, are gaining popularity among all political parties.
“I think the loss of open space is the one thing that we all see as the big threat of sprawl. It’s tangible.
You can see it in the field you used to play in when you grew up. It disappears and that’s visceral. And I
think that appeals to everybody who’s really concerned about how we’re growing.”
Humphrey says that Ann Arbor’s program is a good approach, since it focuses on regional development.
And while scenic areas like Boulder, Colorado and Portland, Oregon have greenbelts in place, the
Midwest generally hasn’t followed. But that could all change now, according to Mike Garfield. He’s
director of The Ecology Center, which spearheaded the plan.
“I think that what we did Tuesday in Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor township could lead to a wave of new
conservation easement programs and farmland programs around Michigan and throughout the Great
Garfield says his group’s win showed it was possible to successfully trounce a formidable opponent: the
homebuilders. Homebuilders feared the plan would limit housing choices. They spent a quarter of a
million dollars to fight it. Garfield’s hopeful that this victory will help preserve Ann Arbor’s high quality
of life and its vital downtown. In a mere ten minutes, he’s able to walk to work without fighting traffic.
And he thinks the ‘yes’ vote indicated that Ann Arbor residents value that kind of living. But Garfield
realizes not everyone in Ann Arbor agrees with him.
“And of course there were some people in town who are not developers and home builders who opposed
it because it was a tax or because they believed some of the arguments or they didn’t trust city hall or
something like that.”
Niki Wardner is one of those people. She lives in a ranch on an acre of land overlooking a public golf
course in Ann Arbor’s wooded residential section. A handful of vote no signs are perched against her
door. Wardner lobbied heavily with other citizens against the Ann Arbor plan. She thinks 30 years is
way too long for a tax.
“They’re going to bond this issue, this proposal, i.e., take a mortgage out. We can never change it.
There’s no accountability. How do we know 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, 30 years, what’s going on with
Wardner’s concerned that this plan was rushed to the ballot without details on how it would work and
what kind of land will be purchased. She thinks something needs to be done about sprawl. But she’s not
sure this is the solution. And she also thinks residents won’t agree to the increased development that will
likely occur downtown and where she lives.”
“Personally, you know, I bought my piece of property because I live on a park and you know, we all like
trees and green space and I don’t think anyone wants townhouses or condos or a five story building in
And building more homes downtown is a central part of the plan. Doug Kelbaugh is Dean of The
University of Michigan’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning. He says that to avoid sprawling
out, more people need to live in the city’s center.
“There aren’t enough people living downtown. It’s the living downtown, the downtown residential
development, that will do the most to decrease sprawl, decrease the number of commute trips, decrease
the length of commute trips, increase the walkability, increase the livability and the urbanity of Ann
Kelbaugh says if that denser development occurs, that means houses will have to be built on smaller lots.
That could curb housing price spikes by adding to housing supply. He said that if carried out responsibly,
Ann Arbor’s plan could be a small, but important first step in attacking sprawl.
“As long as gasoline is so cheap and farmland is so cheap, we will tend to have sprawl in America. This
is a major model that’s prevailed in America for 50 or 60 years, if not a little longer and it’s going to take
a little while to turn it around. But this is a significant beginning.”
Other towns are looking to preserve green space just like Ann Arbor’s doing. They’ll be closely watching
to see if it works.
For The Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Halpert.
Chemicals known as PBDE’s are used as flame-retardants in many products. But PBDE’s have been showing up in people and in wildlife. Now, one of the biggest manufacturers of PBDE’s has announced that it will be phasing out the chemical. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has more:
Chemicals known as PBDE’s are used as flame-retardants in many products.
But PBDE’s have been showing up in people and in wildlife. Now, one of the
biggest manufacturers of PBDE’s has announced that it will be phasing out
the chemical. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has more:
Some animal tests have shown that PBDE’s can be toxic – but the EPA says
it’s “not yet concluded that the chemicals are an unreasonable risk to human
However, the Great Lakes Chemical Corporation has announced that it will
voluntarily stop producing a widely used PBDE, known as Penta, by the end of
2004. This chemical is used mostly to prevent fires in furniture cushions.
Anne Noonan is with Great Lakes Chemical. She says the company started
developing an alternative in the mid 1990’s when research began to show that
PBDE’s gets into the environment and eventually the food chain:
“We understood that it did bioaccumulate and there was growing public
concern that this would start building up in the environment. So with that
in mind, we started developing this product.”
The new product is called FireMaster 550, and according to the EPA, initial
tests have shown that this chemical should be safe.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.
Lead is a toxic metal that has been linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurological impairment, even at low exposures. But a new study suggests that when high levels of another metal are present in the environment, it might reduce the amount of lead absorbed into the bloodstream. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erika Johnson has more:
Lead is a toxic metal that has been linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and
neurological impairment, even at low exposures. But a new study suggests that when
high levels of another metal is present in the environment, it might reduce the amount of
lead absorbed into the bloodstream. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erika Johnson
The study published in the journal Nature compared lead levels for children living near
industrial and non-industrial sites. Researchers found that children exposed to high levels
of environmental zinc from a nearby smelter absorbed less lead.
Curtis Noonan is an epidemiologist with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry. He co-authored the study.
“But I think it’s important to note also that in our study, high levels of environmental
zinc, while they may have altered the strength of the association between environmental
lead and blood lead, environmental zinc did not ultimately protect children from lead
Noonan says that because children are more susceptible to lead poisoning than adults,
parents should be aware of the risks of lead in the home, even when environmental zinc is
Noonan says that future research should also take into account dietary exposures to zinc,
as well as a person’s overall nutritional status.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erika Johnson.
Starting in 2006, the government will require nutrition labels on food to also list trans-fats. That’s pushing companies to look at changing how they grow some crops. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Starting in 2006, the government will require nutrition labels on food to also list trans-fats.
That’s pushing companies to look at changing how they grow some crops. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Products containing hydrogenated soybean oil are high in trans-fats. So, Monsanto is designing a
new lower-fat, healthier soybean. Using conventional plant breeding, Monsanto will first do two
thing. One: reduce trans-fats and two: increase healthy monounsaturated fats. Shannon
Troughton is a spokesperson for Monsanto. She says a final step requires genetically altering the
“The third phase will take biotechnology techniques and make it completely free or as free as
possilbe of saturated fats.”
Except for a more nutritious rice given to the developing world for free, this is the first time a
grain has been genetically modified for reasons other than economic gain for farmers. Monsanto
indicates the new soy oil will be in products on the grocers’ shelves in about eight years if it’s
approved by government regulators.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
The auto industry seems to be growing a bit green. Car makers across the world are exploring new, more environmentally-friendly power systems for cars and trucks. But despite these new developments, it doesn’t appear that American car buyers think green when they go shopping for a new vehicle. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Poorman reports:
The auto industry seems to be growing a bit green. Car makers across
the world are exploring new, more environmentally friendly power systems
for cars and trucks. But despite these new developments, it doesn’t
appear that American car buyers think green when they go shopping for a
new vehicle. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Poorman reports:
Sales of environmentally-friendly vehicles are increasing in the U-S. Toyota is leading the pack,
with the debut in October of the second generation of its mid-size hybrid car, the Prius. The
small gas engine gets help from an electric motor, making for a much different kind of
(sound of Prius starting)
However, those sales are dwarfed by the sales of gas guzzling SUVs.
(sound of H2 starting)
That’s the H2 – the latest in General Motor’s popular line of Hummers.
These vehicles are so big that they’re considered a heavy truck, making
them exempt from the federal government’s fuel economy ratings, so you
won’t see the gas mileage on the window sticker.
But salesman Ed Arthur of Capitol Hummer in Lansing, Michigan, says
that’s not a big deal. Arthur says H2 customers are looking for
something else than fuel economy.
“They’re looking for something that’s unique. It’s different.
They want something to be where they can go off-road if they want to.
If they don’t want to, that’s fine. But they want the capabilities, but
they don’t want to sacrifice the comforts and the rides that they’ve
been getting in other cars and other types of vehicles in the past.”
These kinds of preferences aren’t just limited to the select customers
who can afford a 50-thousand-dollar Hummer. John Denove studies
customers’ car-buying priorities for JD Power and Associates, an
automotive consulting firm.
“Probably your top five include the quality/reliability issues, styling, safety, gas mileage, and
And Denove says, gas mileage only recently crept into the top five, as
gas prices have risen. As for pure environmental motives, he says he
recently developed a survey and, during a series of interviews, found
fifty different factors people consider when they’re choosing what car
or truck to buy.
“The funny thing is, nobody during those interviews ever mentioned green issues other than gas
mileage, so they never made it into the survey.”
But environmentalists think those findings might not capture what’s
really happening when people go into dealerships. Jon Coifman is with
the Natural Resources Defense Council. He says that people just assume
cars and trucks won’t harm the environment now. Regulations have
prompted automakers to develop and sell cleaner technologies.
“What we’ve learned over the years is that when you’ve got
good standards in place, the automakers have done a pretty good job of
delivering good solutions at a pretty good price.”
Detroit’s car companies argue that price and performance are both major
reasons for their delay in getting out newer and more expensive
environmental technologies, like hybrids and electric cars. Consumer
surveys show most car-buyers won’t pay more just to be green. And
electrics never caught on because they had a limited range and had to be
plugged in each night.
But Toyota now says that it’s making money on every Prius. And next
year, the Japanese automaker plans to put a new twist on hybrid sales.
It will overcome the lack of demand for green vehicles by marketing a
new hybrid SUV as a performance vehicle, with a four-cylinder engine
producing six-cylinder power, and by the way, it gets good mileage.
The NRDC’s Coifman says this makes him worry that GM, Ford, and Chrysler
are already losing this latest car sales skirmish.
“Our fear is that, as this revolution unfolds, that the
American manufacturers may have been dragging their feet too long and
are going to miss the boat.”
In the meantime, GM’s investment in the Hummer is paying off for the
company and its dealers. The vehicles bring in huge profits. GM is
even considering adding another, but smaller, Hummer to its line-up,
filling what seems to be an ever expanding taste for gargantuan, rather
than green, vehicles in the U.S.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Bill Poorman.
New tests have begun at an underwater electric barrier that’s considered essential to keeping a bothersome invasive species out of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach has the story:
New tests have begun at an underwater electric barrier that’s considered essential to keeping a
bothersome invasive species out of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck
Quirmbach has the story:
A few months ago, a common carp fitted with a radio transmitter passed through an electric
barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. That barrier is just thirty miles from Lake
Michigan and is called the last line of defense for keeping the potentially damaging Asian carp
out of the Great Lakes. The common carp got through as a barge was passing over the barrier.
Chuck Shea is the Project Coordinator for the Army Corps of Engineers. He says researchers
want to see if barges limit the effectiveness of the electronic pulses.
“So we are going to do a study where we are actually renting barges and running them back and
forth through the barrier while measuring the strength of the electric field with a variety of
equipment to see if barges absorb or deflect the electric field and create a problem.”
Shea says the results may affect the design of a second barrier that researchers want to set up
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach in Romeoville, Illinois.
An invasive species known as Asian Carp is migrating toward the Great Lakes. Some scientists fear the Asian carp will harm sport fishing in the lakes, if the carp ever get past some man-made barriers. Anglers, state conservation officials and others are trying to get the invasive fish on Congress’s plate… and even on yours. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach has the story:
An invasive species known as Asian Carp is migrating toward the Great Lakes. Some scientists
fear the Asian carp will harm sport fishing in the lakes, if the carp ever get past some man-made
barriers. Anglers, state conservation officials, and others are trying to get the invasive fish on
Congress’s plate and even on yours. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach has
Asian carp escaped from southern U.S. fish farms a few years ago and the voracious eaters of key
parts of the food chain have been munching their way North on the Mississippi River and several
of its tributaries.
(sound of boat moving through water)
On the spoon river near Peoria, Illinois, the invasive carp are quite common. With a little
encouragement from a nearby electro-shocker, the large fish sometimes jumps out of the water
and right into a boat.
(sound of boat)
This two-foot long slippery visitor flips back and forth on the bottom of the aluminum boat until
Thad Cook of the Illinois Natural History Survey grabs the fish. Cook notes the markings of the
fish and says it’s one of the Asian carp known as a silver carp.
“It’s a healthy fish, cool to the touch, too.”
(sound of boat)
Not too far away, on the Illinois River, you can find more evidence of the Asian carp’s
Two other staffers of the Natural History Survey have caught about 40 Asian carp known as
bighead carp in a net that was only out for about twenty minutes. Erik harms holds open the
carp’s dark red gills.
“Those are the gills and they use that to filter out the phytoplankton, plankton.”
Researchers estimate there are now millions of Asian carp in the Illinois River. They’ve
continued to crowd out more of the native fish such as the white bass and buffalo fish. Not only
are the invasive fish causing problems for other fish… they’re causing problems for people. One
woman was injured this year when an Asian carp jumped and hit her in the head.
This big fish story might get worse. This year, the Asian carp migrated another 30 miles closer to
the Great Lakes. That puts the carp within 100 miles of Lake Michigan.
Phil Moy is with the Wisconsin Sea Grant. He says, look out if the carp gets in the Great Lakes.
“Well, it’s just gonna be another mouth to feed. We’ve seen some of the insult the zebra mussels
have added to the ecosystem and we just don’t need to take the risk of another one.”
Other researchers agree it’s best to keep the Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. But some say it’s
not a sure thing that the fish would wreak havoc in those waters.
Mark Pegg directs the Illinois River biological station for the Illinois Natural History Survey. He
says the prolific carp might not reproduce as quickly in colder lake waters.
“Fish and a lot of other organisms show a resilience to environmental conditions, so I’m not
gonna say that’s gonna stop ’em dead in their tracks, but it’s certainly an avenue of hope.”
Pegg says it’s also possible that commercial anglers along the Illinois River may slow the spread
of the Asian carp by catching them and selling them.
“Anybody else, would you like to try it?”
Rick Smith is offering small pieces of cooked Asian carp, both regular and smoked. Smith runs
the Big River Fish Corporation in Pearl, Illinois. He says he recently hired some anglers to haul
in some of the invasive fish.
“For two months two crews fishin’ there and we caught almost 200-hundred thousand pounds of
fish in a month and a half and moved em.”
Yep, people bought them to eat. But smith admits that he won’t pay much for Asian carp, until
he’s got a stronger customer demand for them. And he acknowledges that the big fish can be
costly to harvest, because they tend to tear angler’s nets. So government officials say commercial
anglers alone won’t stop the spread of Asian carp. There might have to be more
A barge passes through the Chicago sanitary and ship canal. The canal connects the Illinois River
system with Lake Michigan. At one place on the bottom of the canal, there’s a system of cables
which electrifies the water. The two-million dollar barrier was originally built to keep the round
goby that’s invaded the Great Lakes out of the Mississippi. Now it’s seen as a way to stop Asian
Carp from getting into the Great Lakes. The electric barrier shocks the fish and is supposed to
stop them from going any farther. But a few months ago, a common carp passed through the
barrier as a barge was passing over it.
Chuck Shea is with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He says the Corps is testing to see if the
steel barges disrupt the electric shock so that fish can get by the barrier alongside the barges.
“So we are going to do a study where we are actually renting barges and running them back and
forth thru the barrier, while measuring the strength of the electrical field with a variety of
Shea says the results of the study could affect the design of a second electric barrier researchers
want to put in a few hundred feet away.
But just getting money to improve the first barrier and build a second one is stalled in
Washington. An invasive species bill could provide millions more dollars for Asian carp control.
But Congress has yet to pass the measure.
Dennis Schnornack chairs the U.S. section of the International Joint Commission. The IJC is an
advisory body that oversees the Great Lakes. Schornack says at one point it looked like the
invasive species bill would pass back in January.
“Well were nearly at the end of 2003 and haven’t seen a committee meeting in either the House
or the Senate, so that’s very disappointing and cause for some alarm.”
And it’s not just the Great Lakes that could be affected. One of the fish was recently caught
along the Mississippi River between Wisconsin and Minnesota, much farther North than the carp
were previously thought to be. So some people are now pushing for a 25 million dollar electric
barrier across the Mississippi, so the carp don’t find their way into places like the Wisconsin and
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.