Commonwealth Journal

May 16, 2013

McConnell sponsors amendment to stop ban on fishing near dams

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Washington, D.C. —

The U.S. Senate has passed a bill which contains an amendment by Senator Mitch McConnell that would stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from restricting access to fishing and water activities near Wolf Creek and Barkley dams.
McConnell's amendment was included within the Water Re-sources Develop-ment Act (WRDA), which passed the Senate yesterday.
Danielle Smoot, district communica-tions coordinator for Congressman Hal Rogers, said Mc-Connell’s amendment to WRDA will go to the U.S. House of Represen-tatives for consideration.
The Corps during the first week in May began to place buoys and signs that will restrict fishing and water activities 500 feet above and below Wolf Creek Dam and nine other Corps-operated dams on the Cumberland River and its tributaries.
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.
McConnell’s amendment would stop the Corps from installing physical barriers that would block fishing access to the tailwaters of these dams; would limit the Corps' ability to designate "restricted areas” to times when operation conditions create hazardous waters, rather than 24 hours a day; and give states the right to enforce public access to these areas.
"Many Kentuckians are struggling in this economy and the last thing they need is the nanny state shutting down a critical local resource. Many in our state have depended on these waters for years and it's outrageous for the federal government to make such a decision with complete disregard for the people affected most directly by the policy,” McConnell said. 
 He continued: “Blocking fishing access to the tailwaters of Lake Barkley and Wolf Creek will not only rob fishermen of a beloved pastime, it will also impair tourism in the area and negatively affect the Kentucky economy.”
  The Kentucky senator met last month with local elected officials, anglers and local residents at Lake Barkley to hear firsthand their concerns regarding the Corps' plan and was told that the proposal to install barricades and to block access to areas which are popular with anglers in Kentucky would have a major impact on the communities near the Barkley and
Wolf Creek Dams. McConnell said he took action because the Corps, without cooperation or explanation, continues its plan to block fishing access to the tailwaters of these dams.
  During an informational meeting January 24 at The Center for Rural Development in Somerset, 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 commander, 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.