Commonwealth Journal

May 22, 2013

Fishing restrictions near Wolf Creek Dam halted by Congressional action

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Nashville, Tenn. —

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has declined comment on a two-year moratorium passed by both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to halt the Corps’ plans to implement barriers and restrict fishing accesses to the tailwaters of Barkley and Wolf Creek dams along the Cumberland River.
“We don’t comment on pending legis-lation,” said Bill Peoples, chief of public affairs for the Corps’ Nashville District. “It’s still legislation ... it hasn’t been signed by the President,” Peoples added.
The Corps announced the first of May that it would begin placing buoys and signs to restrict fishing and water activities close to Wolf Creek Dam and nine other Corps-operated dams on the Cumberland River and its tributaries. The restricted access at all dams was supposed to be in place by late spring or early summer. Peoples declined to say if the project is proceeding.
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell praised the House of Representatives yesterday for passing his measure. Representative Ed Whitfield led the effort to move the provision through the House.
“This is great news for fishing enthusiasts and business owners in Kentucky, and I want to thank Congressman Whitfield for helping move it through the House of Representatives,” Senator McConnell said. 
“For decades, Kentuckians and anglers from faraway have enjoyed the pleasure of fishing the tailwaters on the Cumberland River. For many in this area, it has become a rite of passage. So you can imagine the outrage at a decision by the Obama Administration to end this proud tradition in the name of big-government-certified safety and security.”
McConnell added: “Recently, I had the chance to talk directly with many area anglers and business owners about the disastrous effect the Army Corps’ plan would have on their livelihoods, and thanked them for making their voices heard. 
“When that many people unite as one to stand against such a wrongheaded proposal, you’d think this administration would to listen. They didn’t.  So today, we are sending them a message by passing legislation to block them from restricting fishing access to Cumberland River. I urge the President to sign it into law without delay.”
Somerset’s own Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers, the Fifth District Republican from the House of Representatives, was likewise pleased with the action.
“With lake levels rising, folks are gassing up their boats and getting excited about the 2013 summer season," said Rogers. "The 'Freedom to Fish Act' will ensure lake enthusiasts have full access to prime fishing spots. This legislation keeps the Corps from moving forward with physical barriers, while allowing for signage and alert systems to inform individuals of potential water-flow changes. 
“Communities around Kentucky’s fine lakes rose up in opposition to the Corps’ policy and now have reason to celebrate and fish to catch,” he added.
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. 
McConnell on March 19 met with Lt. Col. Jim DeLapp, Nashville commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to discuss the Corps’ barricade plan. In the meeting, McConnell reiterated his opposition to the Corps’ plan and said he will continue to work to prevent them from installing the barricades.
 Senators McConnell, Rand Paul, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker introduced on February 28 the Freedom to Fish Act that would prevent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from installing physical barriers along portions of the Cumberland River, which would block fishing access to the tailwaters of the Barkley and Wolf Creek dams. Congressman Whitfield (R-KY) introduced the House companion bill.
The Senate on May 15 passed McConnell’s provision included in the Water Resources and Development Act preventing a move by federal officials to barricade portions of the Cumberland River near the Barkley and Wolf Creek Dams. Many of the Freedom to Fish Act provisions passed in the Senate WRDA bill. 
While enactment of WRDA is contingent on House consideration—which may take several months or longer—Senator McConnell, on May 16 introduced and the Senate passed separate legislation that ensures the Army Corps does not move ahead with implementing barriers before WRDA’s final passage. This is the legislation that the House passed Tuesday.