The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nashville District this week began to place buoys and signs that will restrict fishing and water activities close to Wolf Creek Dam and nine other Corps-operated dams on the Cumberland River and its tributaries.
Enforcement of these restrictions by Corps rangers and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources personnel will keep fishermen, swimmers and waders 500 feet from Wolf Creek Dam in the tailwater and also 500 feet away on the upstream side of the dam.
Lee Roberts, public affairs specialist for the Corps, said there is no exact schedule for placing buoys and signs at individual dams. It could be late spring or summer before the restrictive areas are marked at all dams, he noted.
No physical barriers to the restricted areas will be installed at this time, Roberts said. “We’re going to see how the buoys and signs work,” he commented. The restrictions allegedly will have little or no effect on bank fishermen.
High ranking officials, including Sen. Mitch McConnell and Congressman Hal Rogers, have expressed opposition to the restrictions. However, the Corps has proceeded with plans to implement what it calls safety measures.
"This plan demonstrates a complete disregard for the people affected most directly by the policy and is yet another example of this administration forcing burdensome regulations on communities rather than working with them to ensure safety," McConnell said.
During an informational meeting January 24 at The Center for Rural Development, fishermen mingled among politicians and public officials, almost all expressing opposition to implementing no-access areas close to Wolf Creek Dam. Fishermen say the area near the dam is one of the top five fishing spots in Kentucky.
Lt. Col. James A. DeLapp, the Corps’ Nashville District engineer, 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 have not put in place.
Ron Brooks, the fisheries division director for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Services, said Wednesday that his agency doesn't have enough officers to routinely enforce a federal decision.
"The boating restrictions were set by the Corps, and therefore it is their responsibility to enforce them," Brooks said.
Brooks also said the state remained open to working with the federal agency on an agreement that would allow fishing below the dams when water conditions for fishing were tenable.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., blasted the decision and promised it would prompt Senate action.
"This is a waste of taxpayer dollars and an unreasonable interference with the right to fish below the dams the public owns," Alexander said.
On March 23, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution to the budget that would allow for Congress to pass legislation prohibiting the Corps' plan.