Saturday, February 6, 2010

Will Anything Be Done?

We will be even more saturated by stories about the ugly, voracious, advancing, asian carp as two big meetings are set to take place next week.

On Monday the White House will host regional leaders behind closed doors to discuss what to do about the advancing asian carp. Then on Friday there will be another meeting in Chicago with representatives from all of the involved agencies and states seeking public input.

The big question will be whether any substantive action will come from these meetings. Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox is working on discrediting the argument that the Illinois economy would be severely impacted. Cox commissioned a study to find out exactly what the economic impacts would be on the Illinois economy. The study found that the claims by Illinois legislators and the Obama Administration are grossly exaggerated. The study came on the heels of a renewed preliminary injunction that Cox filed in response to new carp DNA that was found in Lake Michigan.

The study found the following:

7 million tons of cargo would be affected. This is less than 1 percent of all freight traffic in the Chicago region and 30 percent of the total Port of Chicago traffic.

The affected barge traffic equals two loaded freight trains. This is in a region that has 500 daily freight trains.

Truck traffic would increase by less than 1/10 of a percent despite shippers' claims that the increase in truck traffic would lead to deteriorated air quality.

Cargo that was affected would still be moved by ships, they just would not be entering the locks. The cargo would have to be transported the rest of the way by trucks or trains.

Overall the costs to shippers would be increased by $70 million, not $190 million as was previously claimed by Illinois and federal officials. If anything, new cargo related jobs would be created. Any lost barge jobs would be replaced by trucking or rail jobs.

The report also found that shipping has decreased in recent years from over 7.4 million tons in 2007 to over 6.9 million tons in 2008.

The report came up with three alternatives for cargo if the locks were closed.

"Alternative A. Transload all cargo between barge and truck. All existing cargo passing through the Chicago and O’Brien locks would continue to move by barge. New transload facilities would be built downstream of the barrier. All cargo would be trucked between the transload center and existing customers."

"Alternative B. Transload but some rail. Most cargo would continue to be transferred to and from trucks at the transload facilities. However, some would shift to an all rail movement. "

"Alternative C. Transload, rail, pipeline, and use of other terminals. Half of cargo would continue to transfer to and from trucks at the transload facilities. There would be more rail. Some cargo would continue to move by barge via other routes to terminals elsewhere in the region, and some would move by pipeline."

Given that the Great Lakes sport fishery is valued at $7 billion, the Great Lakes are being held hostage by Illinois officials for the paltry sum of $70 million. There are reasonable actions that can be taken. It will be interesting to see if this study is even considered in the decision making process. By the end of next week we will see whether anything will be done or if everyone will just agree that it is a problem and keep dragging it out.

The report is toward the end of the renewed motion for preliminary injunction.

Chicago Waterway System Ecological Separation: The Logistics and Transportation Related Cost Impact of Waterway Barriers

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