The Chicago District commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, Col. Vincent Quarles, on Thursday told about 50 experts in the fight to keep the monstrous Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes that he will do what it takes to get the job done - including turning on the corps' new $9 million fish barrier by Jan. 30.
"I know my mission," said Quarles, standing in combat fatigues tucked into high-laced boots, at a meeting of a barrier advisory group.
The corps and the Coast Guard have come under fire in recent weeks from the Great Lakes governors and members of Congress for taking nearly three years to flip the switch on an electric barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, an artificial link between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River basin.
The device is designed to repel Asian carp - a super-sized cousin to the common carp - by firing powerful jolts of electricity into the water. The problem is that the canal is a busy waterway for barge operators and recreational boaters, and the electricity poses an obvious hazard to people who fall overboard and to barges carrying flammable materials.
A smaller, less powerful electric "experimental" barrier has been the only thing standing between the fish and the Great Lakes.
The corps and the Coast Guard have spent the past 2 1/2 years on $1 million worth of safety tests and projects to make the new barrier safer for people using the canal, which was built more than 100 years ago to flush Chicago sewage away from Lake Michigan and toward the Gulf of Mexico. more