Commonwealth Journal

January 25, 2013

Fishermen, officials unhappy with restricted water access

Corps of Engineers calling waters around Wolf Creek Dam ‘hazardous’; public hearing held at The Center

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

A crowd of fishermen mingled among politicians and public officials Thursday night in the theater at The Center for Rural Development to express dis-pleasure about restricting access in what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers calls hazardous waters immediately upstream and downstream at Wolf Creek Dam.
Calling the proposed 500-foot restricted area in the tailwater at Wolf Creek Dam one of the top five fishing spots in Kentucky, they pleaded for compromise. They promised political pressure to make the Corps back down. They wondered why the Corps is informing the public now after the restrictions are already being put in place. They complained because the meeting was in Somerset instead of Russell Springs where the dam is located.
Newly elected State Sen. Chris Girdler expressed his opposition. Danielle Smoot, communications director for Congressman Hal Rogers, said the congressman has received about 100 calls on the issue during the past two weeks. A representative from Gov. Steve Beshear’s office requested information about research done that was basis for the regulations. A delegation from Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources was present.
Girdler called the restrictions a “job killer.” He said “ ... fishing here means jobs here. This is more than a safety concern. This is a job concern.”
Smoot said Congressman Rogers plans to discuss the issue with Lt. Col. James A. DeLapp, commander of the Nashville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. DeLapp was at the meeting Thursday night, explaining the regulations and fielding questions from passionate and unhappy fishermen.
Apparently the restrictions are a done deal. DeLapp said since 2009 there have been three fatalities, one serious injury and 10 near misses/rescues in hazardous waters downstream from Corps-operated dams. He said the Corps has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in out-of-court settlements for these mishaps.
DeLapp emphasized the Corps is simply following regulations enacted during the 1990s; regulations the Nashville District up to now has not put in place.
The commander said he wanted to dispel rumors, one making the rounds that the Corps is banning all fishing.  The restricted areas will be small areas compared to the entire tailwater below the dams on federal property.  Fishing and boating will still be allowed in these non-restricted areas, Delapp said. The Corps continues to allow bank fishing in all areas that were previously approved, including areas adjacent to some restricted areas.
All forms of water access within the restricted areas will be prohibited including boating, swimming and wading. 
The restrictions are in place or being put in place at all Corps-operated dams. Restricted areas at Wolf Creek Dam will be 500 feet from the dam in the tailwater and 500 feet on the upstream side of the dam. DeLapp said the regulations will be in place no later than June.