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Two anglers are silhouetted by the rising sun over Lake Superior at the mouth of the Lester River in Duluth last November. Federal legislation is expected to help protect the Great Lakes and keep commerce moving on Lake Superior and the other lakes. (File / News Tribune)

Congressman's view: Bill locks carp out of Minnesota, opens up Great Lakes shipping

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opinion Duluth, 55802
Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

For those of us who live, work and play here in the Northland, the massive Water Resources Reform and Development Act marks a milestone: creating good new jobs by boosting commerce through Duluth and the Great Lakes while protecting our cherished and profitable sport-fishing industry from invasive Asian carp. As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where the bill originated on the House side — and of the conference committee that hammered out the final bill with the Senate — I was gratified to see Democrats and Republicans put politics aside to get big and important things done for the American people.

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For Duluth and northern Minnesota, three of those things — all amendments I was pleased to introduce into the original House Transportation Committee bill — stand head and shoulders above the rest.

No. 1: We are stopping federal raids on the Harbor Trust Fund for purposes other than critical waterway maintenance, raids that have cost thousands of jobs and an estimated $3 billion in annual business activity by forcing the port of Duluth and Great Lakes ships to operate at just 80 percent of capacity.

My amendment will provide the money necessary to unblock a crippling 10-year dredging backlog that effectively has reduced the amount of iron ore, coal, timber, grain and manufactured goods we move out of the port of Duluth and up the Great Lakes by 20 percent. That means another 3.2 million tons of iron ore will be added to the roughly 16 million we now move out of the Duluth harbor to the world. The impact will be felt all across the Iron Range as companies gear up to expand production and hiring.

Meanwhile, overall shipping out of the Duluth port will jump from 40 million tons to about 48 million tons during the navigation season. The effects of that increase will be felt across the board, boosting the already substantial economic impact of cargo shipments in and out of the port. That impact currently stands at 11,500 jobs, $545 million in wages and $1.5 billion in business revenue, according to the Seaway Port Authority of Duluth.

No. 2: We are halting the spread of invasive Asian carp into northern Minnesota waters by closing the St. Anthony Lock and Dam in Minneapolis, the last barrier to an invasion that otherwise would threaten to devastate the multibillion-dollar sport-fishing and tourism industry that underpins our way of life here in the north country.

Make no mistake. Without this amendment, invasive carp essentially would be free to move through the upper Mississippi watershed; into the Crow Wing, Pine and Rum rivers; and into Gull, Pine, White Fish and Mille Lacs lakes as well as other important lakes including Leech, Cass and Winnie.

No community on or near any body of water would be immune from the effects. No resort or fishing party, including the annual Governor’s Fishing Opener, would be safe from these enormous, jumping fish that overtake native species like walleyes, northern pike and bass by consuming and destroying their habitat.

No. 3: My amendment to change the definition of “invasive species” to include animal life (the present definition applies only to plants) will provide the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with money and resources to do research and abatement on about 180 invasive and non-native species — including the zebra mussel, quagga mussel, round goby and sea lamprey — that now threaten the entire Great Lakes seaway.

Our entire state delegation — including Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar; Congresswomen Betty McCollum and Michelle Bachmann; and Congressmen Keith Ellison, Tim Walz, Collin Peterson, Erik Paulsen and John Kline — deserves thanks and praise from all Minnesotans for their hard work in supporting the Water Resources Reform and Development Act.

Even in this so-called “most unproductive Congress in history” we got this done for Minnesota and our nation, and that’s something to be proud of.

Rick Nolan of Crosby represents Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District.

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