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Safety alert for Chicago shipping canal

August 25, 2009 at 02:26 PM

CHICAGO—Boaters are warned that the waterway between river markers 296.0 and 296.7 on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, near Romeoville, approximately 30 miles from Chicago, is closed until further notice.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has increased the voltage, frequency and pulse length of the Electric Fish Dispersal Barrier between the power plant and the pipeline arch. The USACE and the U.S. Coast Guard are conducting tests to determine which boats can safely pass through this area.

The USACE built the Aquatic Nuisance Species Barrier to protect the Great Lakes from the threat of Asian carp. The construction was completed in 2002. The electric barrier prevents Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. This type of fish has a ferocious appetite and may grow to 100 pounds in weight. The barrier was initially operated at one volt per inch, but was increased to two volts per inch Aug. 12 to repel juvenile Asian carp, that may require greater voltage to deter, or another smaller invasive species that may be identified in the future.

The waterway is closed to all non-metallic hull vessels, and all vessels under 20 feet. A decision to open the waterway will not be considered until the USACE completes safety tests on the barrier at the increased operating voltage of two volts per inch. For more information on the safety zone and waterway closures, visit the Coast Guard’s web site at http://www.uscg.fishbarrierinfo.com or contact them at
(216) 902-6020. If you have questions regarding barrier operations, contact the USACE at (312) 846-5330.

Entering this safety zone would be punishable by a maximum civil penalty of $32,500 for each violation. It may also constitute commission of a Class D felony, which is punishable by a fine of no more than $250,000 and/or imprisonment for no more than six years. The USACE and the Coast Guard have been warning of the hazards of crossing the barrier for two years; the Coast Guard’s major concern is the risk of severe injury or even death.

Currently the canal is closed to recreational vessels. If the canal is reopened to recreational traffic, boaters should stay out of the water completely, and either closely supervise children and pets, or send them below deck, recommends the USACE on their web site, http://www.lrc.usace.army.mil/safety. Boaters are also advised not to linger near the barrier.

“With the increased voltage of the barrier, boaters should exercise great caution. Communication with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard is advised before attempting to cross the barrier,” says F. Ned Dikmen, chairman of the Great Lakes Boating Federation. “The Federation remains committed to keeping boaters informed about doing their share to save and preserve the lakes, while working hand-in-hand with the Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard to help shut the gates on all aquatic nuisances.”

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