Eagle Marsh stakeholders will celebrate a pile of dirt today.
It’s a large amount of dirt, to be sure – 10 feet tall, 80 feet wide and nearly 2 miles long, presumably more than enough to stop invasive Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes and wrecking their commercial and recreational fishing industries.
Local, state and federal officials will meet on the southwest edge of Fort Wayne this afternoon for what they are calling a celebration of the Eagle Marsh berm. The $3.5 million project to widen one bank of a drainage ditch running through the marsh began in late 2014 and was essentially finished last fall.
"This is a great example of how a smaller investment up front can save a whole lot of money and heartache after the fact, after damage could have been created," Cameron Davis, who coordinates Great Lakes policy for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Tuesday in a phone interview.
Eagle Marsh has been considered among the most critical places in the nation for halting the spread of Asian carp from the Mississippi River Basin to the Great Lakes, where the huge fish would compete for food with native aquatic species.
The local nature preserve drains into both watersheds, prompting fears that if carp in the Wabash River were to access the marsh through the Graham-McCulloch Ditch, floodwaters could carry them to the nearby Junk Ditch and into the St. Marys and Maumee rivers and Lake Erie.
"We don’t want to ever get to that point, where the fish are right there at the gate. We want to keep beating them back so that they never get to the Great Lakes," Davis said.
The east bank of the Graham-McCulloch Ditch has been refashioned so that it is four times wider than its earlier form. Greg Fleming, president of Fleming Excavation Inc., said his Decatur company moved 240,000 cubic yards of soil in the marsh to build the bigger berm.
The federally funded project is complete expect for plantings along the berm, according to Betsy Yankowiak, director of preserves and programs for the nonprofit Little River Wetlands Project, which manages and co-owns Eagle Marsh.
Yankowiak and Davis are scheduled to speak at today’s celebration, which will start at 3:30 p.m. at nearby Fox Island County Park. Other speakers will include John Goss, Asian carp director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality; Mike Weimer, senior fishery biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Midwest Region; and representatives of the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Little River Wetlands Project.
A question-and-answer session is planned toward the end of the 90-minute program.
The program has been organized by the Little River Wetlands Project and the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, which consists of 25 agencies in the United States and Canada. The committee also will have a business meeting while in Fort Wayne.