Commonwealth Journal

March 22, 2013

Corps moving ahead with dam restrictions

Political leaders say limitations on fishing access could hurt tourism

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Wolf Creek Dam —  

Despite intense political presssure, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to implement regulations that will restrict fishermen’s access within 500 feet immed-iately above and below Wolf Creek Dam and nine other dams in the Nashville District.
“We’re following regul-ations,” said Bill Peoples, chief public affairs officer for the Corps’ Nashville District.
Peoples said no exact time has been set at this point for implementing the plan at Wolf Creek Dam. Overall, he said the Corps is working on an April-June timetable, meaning barriers to restrict access should be in place at all 10 Corps dams by June.
“We’re still planning ... we’re purchasing mater-ials,” Peoples said this week.
Lt. Col. James A. DeLapp, commander of the Corps’ Nashville District, during an informational meeting January 24 at The Center for Rural Development, said since 2009 there have been three fatalities, one serious injury and 10 near misses/rescues in hazard-ous 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.
Fishermen in the area cried foul when they learned about the plan. They call the tailwater close to Wolf Creek Dam one of the top five fishing spots in Kentucky. They claim fishermen from a wide area come to fish below Wolf Creek Dam and restricting access will hurt tourism and put many bait stores out of business.
Fishermen say they have been fishing without incident for years below Wolf Creek Dam. They favor installation of some type of warning device but not barricades to keep their boats away from the dam. DeLapp emphasized the plan will have little effect on bank fishing.
Congressman Hal Rogers met the day after the informational meeting with DeLapp to express his concern and opposition. A representative from Gov. Steve Beshear’s office requested information about research done that was basis for the regulations.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, in a letter to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army (Civil Works), wrote: 
“In addition to the negative impacts USACE's (United States Army Corps of Engineers’) plan would have on recreational fishing and tourism in these communities, I am told it would cost the federal government some $3 million to implement.   
“With a federal deficit above $16 trillion and counting, I believe it would be irresponsible to unnecessarily spend an additional $3 million in taxpayer dollars on an initiative to which local communities are vigorously opposed and that would harm Kentucky's economy,” McConnell’s letter said.
Kentucky Senator Chris Girdler during the informational meeting 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.”