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Bypass on Wisconsin lake raises invasive-species concerns

A plan to build a transfer station in a Wisconsin lake would allow boats to bypass a lock on the Fox River, which critics say could attract invasive species to inland waters.

Plans by the Fox River Navigational System Authority call for the construction of a system to move boats around the lock between Lake Michigan and Lake Winnebago.

Under state law, the existing lock must remain closed as a precaution to stop invasive species in Lake Michigan from spreading to the prized fishery of the Lake Winnebago system. But the authority aims to get around that restriction with a $3.8 million project that would hoist boats out of the river, spray them under high pressure and plop them into a 110-degree bath for 10 minutes before they are returned to the Fox, according to a report in the (Milwaukee) Journal Sentinel.

The money would come from a mix of public and private dollars. Boats as long as 55 feet could use the proposed system.

After the treatment, boats presumably would not contain the kind of invasive species, such as sea lamprey, round goby and quagga mussel, that are upending the ecology of the Great Lakes, the world's largest freshwater system.

A St. Norbert College survey conducted for the authority in 2010 estimates that about 1,300 boats would use the system at least twice a year.

Robert J. Stark, chief operating officer of the authority, estimated that boaters would be charged $25 to $50, depending on the size of the boat.

George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, believes the project will benefit relatively few people, compared with the thousands of boaters who motor up and down the river every year. Those behind the transfer station "can argue the risk isn't that great," Meyer said. "I don't buy that. Why take any risk at all?"

Lake Winnebago is the home of a popular walleye fishery and the world's largest self-sustaining sturgeon population. Using survey data on angler spending, the state Department of Natural Resources estimated that the Winnebago system generates $234 million in annual revenue for the region. The arrival of a new invasive species could jeopardize that, the DNR said.

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