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‘Inaction is not an option’: Cost to keep invasive Asian carp out of Great Lakes triples

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Fortifying an Illinois waterway to prevent invasive carp from using it as a path to Lake Michigan could cost nearly three times as much as federal planners previously thought, according to an updated report.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week released a final strategy plan for upgrading the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Ill., which experts consider a good location to block upstream movement of Asian carp that have infested the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

Scientists warn that if the voracious carp become established in the Great Lakes, they could out-compete native species and harm the region’s $7-billion fishing industry.

The new plan by the corps is similar to a draft from August 2017, but the estimated price tag has jumped from $275 million to nearly $778 million

“Basically during the past year, some additional engineering and design work changed the scope to bring it up to that current cost,” Allen Marshall, spokesperson for the district office of the corps in Rock Island, Ill., said Wednesday.

The biggest increase is for building an “engineered channel” at Brandon Road. The lock-and-dam complex is on the Des Plaines River, which forms part of the waterway link between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, a tributary of the Mississippi.

Asian carp first started showing up in North America in the 1970s, when they were brought in for the aquaculture industry in the U.S. and for the live food fish industry in Canada. (Illinois Department of Natural Resources)

Under the plan, the channel would contain devices, including an electric barrier, noisemakers and an air bubble curtain to deter fish from swimming upstream and remove those that don’t turn back. The adjacent lock would be retooled to flush away unwanted species floating on the water.

The draft had proposed using water jets to dislodge fish that might be stunned or caught in gaps between barges. But the new version says a better method would be generating a continuous, dense curtain of air bubbles in the channel.

The army corps is accepting public comments through Dec. 24 and expects to submit the plan to Congress in February. Its timetable envisions congressional authorization and initial funding next year and the signing of building contracts by July 2020, with work completed by March 2027.

Several states that border the lakes, including Michigan and Illinois, agreed previously to discuss sharing the costs. The escalating price could complicate those negotiations.

Carp have infested much of the Mississippi River basin and are threatening to gain a foothold in the Great Lakes through rivers and canals. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

“Now that the cost has nearly tripled to $778 million, we need to have a better understanding of how this project, with all the proposed components, actually reduces the risk of Asian carp and other invasive species getting into our Great Lakes in a fiscally responsible manner,” said Ed Cross, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Tammy Newcomb, water policy adviser for the Michigan DNR, acknowledged feeling “sticker shock,” but said it shouldn’t derail the project.

“Given the costs of Asian carp invading our Great Lakes, inaction is not an option,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat and co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force.

Carp are filter feeders, which means they eat the base of the aquatic food chain. This starves out native fish species. (CBC)

Illinois officials and business groups have questioned the need to drastically re-engineer the lock and dam, particularly if it would slow barge traffic on the busy commercial waterway.

Lynn Muench, a senior vice-president of the American Waterways Operators, which represents barge companies, said the army corps report sidesteps whether Asian carp are likely to reach Lake Michigan in sufficient numbers to thrive. It also has no cost-benefit analysis of the proposed deterrents, she said.

Meanwhile, environmentalists were concerned that the army corps budget for next year includes no money for pre-construction engineering and design work to get things moving.

“How serious is the Trump administration about getting this project constructed if they haven’t put the necessary funding in to keep it moving on schedule?” said Molly Flanagan, a vice-president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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