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Court refuses Asian carp injunction

March 22, 2010 at 10:20 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dashed the hopes of those who believe immediately closing Chicago-area shipping locks could help prevent invasive Asian carp from infesting the Great Lakes, with justices once again refusing to order that emergency step.

It’s the second time the nation’s highest court rejected a request by Michigan to issue a preliminary injunction shutting the locks in the increasingly desperate battle against the voracious carp, which have migrated north up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers toward the lakes.

Asian carp can weigh 100 pounds and consume up to 40 percent of their body weight daily in plankton, the base of the food chain for Great Lakes fish. Michigan fears that if they reach the lakes, the invaders could lay waste to a multibillion-dollar fishing and boating industry.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox expressed disappointment in the one-line ruling denying the injunction but vowed to continue the fight in the courts. Cox, a Republican running for governor, also repeated calls for President Barack Obama to act to at least temporarily close the locks.

While the Obama administration has called defeating Asian carp a high priority, it’s sided with Illinois against closing the locks, agreeing that could hurt waterway commerce. It’s also said an electronic barrier aimed at stopping the carp from reaching the lakes was performing well.

Barge and tug operators, for whom Chicago-area canals are a vital link to and from the Great Lakes, praised Monday’s ruling.

“We’re obviously very pleased,” said Lynn Muench, vice president of American Waterway Operators, the main industry trade group. “I’m hoping everybody will step back, get out of the courts and go back to collaborating.”

Cox said Michigan asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its injunction request in part because authorities announced they had discovered Asian carp DNA in
Lake Michigan only a fter the justices first turned down the state in January.

When they made the DNA announcement, authorities emphasized it was far from certain that the carp had actually reached Lake Michigan, saying no live or dead specimens had been spotted there. Others said the results likely mean at least some live Asian carp are in the lake.

Cox said in a statement that Michigan still plans to ask courts to reopen a case dating back more than a century, when Missouri filed suit after Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River.

Reopening that case could give proponents who want to permanently separate the Chicago-area canals from Lake Michigan a chance to argue that position, said Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“This is not a crushing blow by any means; it’s one step in a long process,” he said about Monday’s ruling. “We need to keep our eye on the ball of a longer-term solution: permanent separation. That’s the only way to ensure Asian carp don’t colonize Lake Michigan.”

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