— Lawmakers have officially sunk a federal ban on fishing below Wolf Creek Dam. The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed the “Freedom to Fish” provision as part of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) Conference Report. “As we approach this Memorial Day weekend, this is outstanding news for the thousands of Kentuckians who just want the freedom to fish,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, who sponsored the provision, in a press release. The bill permanently blocks the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ ability to enforce any attempt to restrict public access to fish the tailwaters of the Barkley and Wolf Creek Dams in Kentucky. The language also prohibits the Corps from constructing physical barriers to the public areas or attempting to implement any kind of a restricted area using signs in the Cumberland River basin for four years following enactment of WRRDA. “Blocking fishing access to the area would not only have robbed anglers of a beloved pastime, but would have impaired tourism in the area and depressed the Kentucky economy,” McConnell said in the press release. The debate between fishers, tourism experts, and federal officials began raging in January of 2013 after the Corps announced plans to restrict fishing and water activities 500 feet above and below Wolf Creek Dam and nine other Corps-operated dams in the Cumberland River and its tributaries. Corps officials had stated the restrictions were for the safety of fishers and tourists. Lt. Col. James A. DeLapp, commander of the Corps’ Nashville District, said during a January 2013 informational meeting that since 2009 there had been three fatalities, one serious injury and 10 near misses/rescues in hazardous waters near the dams. Corps officials had said that hundreds of thousands of dollars had been paid in out-of-court settlements for the incidents. “We’re just following regulations,” Chief Public Affairs Officer for the Corps’ Nashville District told the Commonwealth Journal in January 2013. But those regulations, in place since the 1990s, had not been enforced until 2013. But anglers were quick to cry foul when the plans were announced, saying the tailwaters near Wolf Creek Dam is one of the top fishing areas in Kentucky. Many also pointed out they’d fished without incident near the dam for years, and to restrict access there would hurt tourism and put bait stores out of business. Heather Tomlinson is a staff writer at the Commonwealth Journal. She can be reached at: email@example.com
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