Hatchery shutdown averted

USFWS to fund facility in 2012; Corps/TVA money still required to sustain permanent operation

By THOMAS P. WEAVER

CELINA-Local hatchery employees, supporters, and area business owners received welcomed news when they learned the looming shutdown of the Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery (DHNFH) here had been averted.

Word came in the form of a statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Arlington, VA after a series of meetings were held between USFWS southeast region assistant regional director of fisheries Linda Kelsey and southeast region deputy regional director Mark Musaus.

“The Service (USFWS) pledges to keep its mitigation hatcheries in the Southeast (including DHNFH) open and operating in fiscal year 2012 (even) if it doesn’t receive full mitigation funding, but this approach is not sustainable in fiscal year 2013 and beyond,” USFWS public affairs officer Valerie Fellows said in a statement released Wednesday, June 1.

Fellows’ news offered a big sigh of relief for local officials, but her statement wasn’t exactly what they wanted to hear.

“That is great news,” local chamber of commerce head Ray Norris told the Cumberland Business Journal (CBJ) after he heard the news. “Now we have to really get busy and connect with the right people to keep it open permanently.”

The CBJ, a news magazine distributed to businesses all across the Upper Cumberland Region, was responsible for breaking the news via their website (www.ucbjournal.com) last Thursday.

The article by CBJ Editor Greg Little also included a comment from Clay County Mayor Dale Reagan.

“I am proud of that,” Reagan said when told by the CBJ about the news from Washington. “But I know that we can’t just sit back. We need to stay in negotiations and in contact with our senators and congressmen to figure out a permanent fix to this thing.”

 

Historical dilemma

In the CBJ article, Little also touched on the history of the ongoing battle between the USFWS and the responsible agencies being asked for reimbursement–the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and others.

It read as follows:

Fellows said though the nine targeted hatcheries will remain open, USFWS is hoping negotiations to receive additional funding from the Corps and the TVA will be successful for the next budget. Currently, the Corps has 80 percent of the necessary funding to purchase mitigation fish from the hatchery. TVA has not pledged any funds at this time.

The “mitigation” factor of the hatchery dates back to the 1960s when the hatchery was first constructed. It was built because federal officials realized after they constructed Dale Hollow Dam (and many other dams across the country), the water being released was from the deepest depths of the lake. That water was too cold for trout to spawn and fishing below the dams nearly dried up.

The federal government realized they needed to solve this problem and did so by constructing “mitigation hatcheries” throughout the country. Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery was one of the hatcheries. It opened in 1965.

At that time, it is believed a “handshake” kind of deal was made in Congress in which the hatcheries would raise the fish and give them to the various agencies which handle stocking and maintaining of the rivers and lakes. In Tennessee and across the Southeast region, the two main agencies are the TVA and the Corps. Elsewhere, the Bureau of Reclamation is involved on American Indian tribal lands.

Fellows said this has been an ongoing issue with the USFWS for “decades.” She said they have been trying to negotiate mitigation funding from these agencies for that long. In the past decade, she said they have really been focusing on the issue and that’s what led to the current situation.

“This is the culmination of a couple of decades,” said Fellows.

The year ahead

In her statement, provided to the HORIZON by DHNFH manager Andy Currie, Fellows addressed the specifics of the ongoing negotiations and outlined the upcoming year’s operation plan by saying:

“If the Service does not receive funding from TVA, it will not be able to provide them mitigation fish in fiscal year 2012. If the Service only receives the $3.8 million from the Corps for fiscal year 2012 (80% of funding), it will produce 80% of the fish that the Corps needs–in other words, the Corps will get what it can pay for.

“In these tough budget times, the Service needs to move to a user pay system to supply fish for mitigation for Federal water projects since put-and-take fisheries are a lower conservation priority.  This is reflected in the President’s budget request.”

Currie told the HORIZON he was involved in a conference call with officials from the USFWS regional office the same day Fellows’ statement was released.  In the call, he and other USFWS field station managers in the southeast were briefed by Kelsey on the latest news of the one-year extension of continued operations.

“We are getting a one-year reprieve,” Currie said, “but we are not out of the woods yet.”

Currie said the details of the of the fiscal year 2012 operations have yet to be determined and he did not know if production would be cut to reflect the actual reimbursement received by the USFWS from the Corps and the TVA, but he did say a meeting has been requested with the TVA and negotiations were still ongoing with the Corps in hopes of receiving the full amounts from both agencies.

“The Service is planning to hold a meeting with Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), and TVA to discuss the funding issue,” Currie said.  “But I don’t know when that meeting will take place.”

He said the service has requested $835,000 from TVA, but had yet to receive any payment to date.

He also said “negotiations with the Corps to receive the full $4.7 million reimbursement are still ongoing.”

Currie sad the Corps budget for fiscal year 2011 and 2012 only provide $3.8 million, as Fellows said in her statement, leaving a $900,000 shortfall.

As previously reported, business owners here have feared the possible shutdown’s economic impact and the USFWS also recognizes what it could mean to the local economy.

“Federal officials will continue to work on solving the problem for the fiscal 2013 budget,” Fellows said in the CBJ article.  “The beauty of the federal budget is even though we are working on fiscal year 2012, we can already start conversations with the Corps and TVA on 2013.

“The Service recognizes the economic benefits to the local communities of these mitigation hatcheries and that is why they decided to fully fund the hatcheries through September 2012.”

See a future HORIZON for updates on the ongoing negotiations.  Also, visit www.dalehollowhorizon.com for previously published stories on this issue and visit www.ucbjournal.com for the Little’s full CBJ article.