Commonwealth Journal

February 21, 2013

Girdler part of opposition to boat access restrictions

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

State Senator Chris Girdler, R-Somerset, and the Kentucky State Senate have joined other powerful voices of opposition to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plans to restrict boater access within 500 feet above and below Wolf Creek Dam.
Girdler, who also serves as deputy district director for Congressman Hal Rogers, sponsored Sen-ate Resolution 112 urging the Corps not to implement plans to restrict access above and below dams on the Cumberland River. The resolution, co-spon-sored by Senators Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello; Stan Humphries, R-Cadiz; and Dorsey Ridley, D-Henderson; among others, “expressing the sentiment of the Senate,” was approved Friday, February 15.
“Tourism is one of our major industries and at a time when our economy appears to rebounding with the lake level rising, this government directive can be detrimental to our region,” Girdler said.” I believe this is yet another example of the government making decisions for people who should reasonably be left to their own judgment. I urge the Corps to reconsider their proposal.”
Lt. Col. James A. DeLapp, commander of the Corps’ Nashville District, and other members of the Corps were met with a blanket of opposition to the plan during an informational meeting January 24 at The Center for Rural Development. 
Fishermen claim the tailwater up close to Wolf Creek Dam is one of five hottest fishing spots in Kentucky. They contend responsible anglers have fished in this area without an accident since the dam was built.
DeLapp, however, 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.
The district commander emphasized the Corps is simply following regulations enacted during the 1990s; regulations the Nashville District up to now has not put in place.
Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, in a strongly worked letter to the Corps, 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.
Congressman Rogers met with DeLapp the day after the informational meeting to express his concerns and opposition to the plan. A representative from Gov. Steve Beshear’s office requested information about research done that was basis for the regulations.
 Despite political pressure, the Corps apparently has not changed course. Tom Hale, operations manager for Lake Cumberland, said assessments of the situation at the Corps’ 10 projects are still under way. 
“We haven’t done anything yet ... we’re still in the assessment phase, but as far as I know the Corps hasn’t changed its plan,” Hale said Thursday.
A public notice would be issued when barriers are in place, or if the Corps should change direction, Hale said.