With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to act on a lawsuit seeking to prevent Asian carp from infiltrating Lake Michigan, defendants said Tuesday that hysteria over questionable DNA research is whipping Upper Midwest states into a frenzy that could devastate Illinois' shipping industry.
Michigan took the lawsuit to the Supreme Court last month, asking for an injunction to force Illinois to close two Chicago-area navigational locks to prevent the carp's spread into the Great Lakes. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and New York have joined the suit.
In three court filings Tuesday, the defendants -- the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and the Army Corps of Engineers -- urged the justices to deny Michigan's request.
Lawyers for the Corps of Engineers and Illinois DNR argued against the legal merits of the suit, which is an attempt to reopen a 100-year-old case sparked by Chicago's reversing the flow of the Chicago River, sending its sewage away from Lake Michigan and toward the Mississippi River.
Water district lawyers contended that Michigan lacked good science to support the idea that Asian carp would disrupt the lakes' fragile ecosystem. They say Michigan has ignored previous reports showing the carp have existed in other parts of the Great Lakes for at least 15 years. If carp are such a problem, the district asked, wouldn't their impact have been obvious by now?
"We think that this issue about Asian carp destroying the ecology and the economy of the Great Lakes is just overblown and just fraught with a lot of emotion," Water District Executive Director Dick Lanyon said.
Recent DNA research has hinted that the invasive fish may have bypassed an underwater electric barrier system and could be within six miles of Lake Michigan.
The stakes are high for fishing and shipping interests in the Great Lakes. Some say the voracious carp, which can surpass 100 pounds and eat several times their body weight in vegetation every day, will harm the lakes' ecology and destroy the region's $7-billion commercial fishing industry.
Others argue that closing the locks would cost hundreds or even thousands of jobs and devastate the region's $1.5-billion shipping and freight-hauling business. Supporters of that argument, which include local boaters associations and the region's towboat and barge industry, say there are many routes that Asian carp can take to bypass the locks.
The Supreme Court could rule on the injunction as early as Friday, or could dismiss Michigan's request altogether.