Federal budget will close hatchery unless community shows support

Residents asked to do

their part by expressing

opposition to proposal

By THOMAS P. WEAVER

HORIZON Editor

CELINA-When President Barack Obama unveiled his proposed federal budget for the 2012 fiscal year late last month, Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery (NFH) manager Andy Currie learned his facility here was on the chopping block and is scheduled to be closed in only a few short months–possibly eliminating eight full-time local employees, affecting over 800 other related jobs in the area, and putting an end to a total economic output of over $75 million.

“It’s still a proposed budget at this time that will be debated in Congress,” Currie, a 30-year NFH system veteran, said in a HORIZON interview over the weekend, “but it says it will happen if full reimbursement is not obtained from what they call the ‘responsible agencies.’

“We’re just hoping for the best right now.”

County Mayor Dale Reagan said Monday he was “really concerned” about the possibility of the hatchery being closed and said he planned on “doing everything he could” to keep the beneficial facility open.

“Before they make any drastic decisions like this, they need to consider the fallout this will have here on our local community and economy,” Reagan said.  “The hatchery is a great asset to our area and if it closes it could be devastating.

“We’ve got to all work together to get this stopped.  If we don’t all voice our opinions, it will happen–because they’ll think nobody cares.

“It’s going to take the voice of everybody to get this done,” Reagan continued.  “There’s no doubt this would create a huge negative impact on our already struggling economy… that’s why we all need to contact our representatives in Washington to express our opposition to this.

“If we don’t, it will happen–because this is what the administration wants to do.  Given these days and times, complacency could be a real problem.  We’ve got to act now.”

Reagan’s urgency is not unfounded thanks to the fact that the fiscal year is nearly a third of the way over and has an end-date of September 30, 2011.

“We don’t have much time left,” Reagan said.  “That is why I am asking everyone to do their part now.”

The players

The ‘responsible agencies’ being asked to reimburse the NFH system Currie referred to in his quote include those who are responsible for the waters serviced by the hatchery–the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and two other out-of-state agencies.

A release from the Department of the Interior including excerpts from Obama’s proposed budget said “if full reimbursement is not obtained from responsible agencies in 2012, fisheries program activities could be eliminated or substantially reduced at nine facilities (including the one here) until reimbursement is negotiated.”

It also said “full reimbursement” would allow for “the continued operations of the facilities,” and said the reimbursements were “essential to offset the funding reduction” and were “critical for facility operations” to continue.

“In the fiscal year (FY) 2011, the fisheries program will continue ongoing discussions with the Corps and initiate discussions with TVA (and the other two out-of-state agencies) to pursue $6,288,000 in reimbursement for the mitigation (stocking) activities related to federal water development projects provided by the NFH system facilities and staff,” the release said.  “Full reimbursement would allow for the continued production of fish for mitigation and recreational fishing.”

The information released also showed the Corps as the only agency to provide any reimbursement to date.

“In its 2010 appropriation, the Corps was provided with $4.5 million to reimburse the fisheries program for its fisheries mitigation activities and those funds were transfered,” the release said.  “In its FY 2011 request, the Corps reduced that amount to $3.8 million for this activity, which is 80% of the 2010 appropriation and the full reimbursement level.

“Fisheries program and Corps personnel continue to work to develop a memorandum of understanding to solidify the relationship between the two agencies, for the benefit of the local communities whose economies are linked to service mitigation activities.  A provision in the Corps budget will clarify authorities for these transfers,” it said.

A release from the fisheries program’s Southeast Regional Office said “for nearly 30 years,” they have been working “to recover costs from the responsible agencies,” and that they were “working diligently with all four agencies to obtain full cost recovery” for their work.

The same release listed those costs as $4.7 million for Corps projects, $835,000 for TVA projects, and a total of $755,000 from the other two agencies–for a total nearing $6.3 million.

“Because we have had successful negotiations with the Corps and we have been in contact with TVA (and one of the other two agencies), we are confident we can get reimbursement agreements with the other agencies,” the fisheries official said in the release.  “Discussions are ongoing for future years and contact has been made.

“Our plan is to work with the agencies responsible for mitigation activities to support these activities directly.”

Reagan said he was encouraged about the possibility of the reimbursements providing a lifeline for the hatchery.

“At least we’ve still got a chance,” he said.  “If the Corps, the TVA, and the others will step up to the plate, then we can keep it open–but they won’t if they have no pressure on them to do so.

“That’s where we come in, not just us as government officials, but everyone else as individuals.  We can do it together.”

By the numbers

According to information from the Dale Hollow NFH website (www.fws.gov/dalehollow), the local hatchery’s fish production creates a positive ripple effect for all Americans.

“Recreational angling for fish produced by the hatchery results in considerable expenditures of recreation-related goods and services such as lodging, transportation, boats, fishing equipment, and other gear used by the fishing public,” the website said.  “Dale Hollow NFH provides an enormous economic impact to the local, regional, and state economy, and is a major economic driver for many of the counties in north-central Tennessee and contributes significantly to the economies of counties in east Tennessee.

“The economic impact is felt by everyone, not just those associated with addressing the needs of anglers, and it is especially significant in small towns and rural areas near the waters stocked by Dale Hollow NFH.”

The site explained that a recent economic study by Dr. James Caudill and Dr. John Charbonneau completed last year “clearly identified these annual economic benefits.”

According to the study, the total economic output from the hatchery here amounts to $75.1 million every year–which is an economic return of $94 for every tax dollar spent.

Other annual numbers include:

• Jobs–employment for 826 people who make $21.5 million in wages;

• Retail sales–$39.7 million associated with angler expenditures with almost $13 million relating to costs for food, lodging, and transportation;

• Taxes generated–$6 million, nearly half of which is federal tax revenue amounting to a return of $2.93 to the treasury for every tax dollar spent making this program pay for itself nearly three times over and that amount does not include the $2.4 million in tax revenues collected by state and local governments; and

• Statewide economic boost–seven of Tennessee’s nine Congressional districts receive benefits from fish produced at Dale Hollow NFH.

See a future HORIZON for updates on this story and more about the hatchery, including federal money being spent recently on improvements to the facility here.  A list of contact information for local representatives in Washington is also printed on page __ of this paper.