TN elected officials continue work to stop Corps’ plans of restricting fishing near dams

CLOSING SOON?-Portions of the waters pictured here above and below Dale Hollow Dam could be closed to fishing access soon if the Corps implements their plans. (photo courtesy www.lrn.usace.army.mil)

CLOSING SOON?-Portions of the waters pictured here above and below Dale Hollow Dam could be closed to fishing access soon if the Corps implements their plans. (photo courtesy www.lrn.usace.army.mil)

CELINA-Anglers have been opposed to plans introduced by the Corps of Engineers to restrict fishing above and below dams here and across the region since news of their intentions broke late last year, but now elected officials from the local, state, and federal level have joined the fight.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander recently held a press conference below Old Hickory Dam in Nashville announcing his plans to introduce legislation to delay the proposed restrictions below dams, the Clay County Commission passed a resolution last month opposing the Corps’ plans, and most recently State Senator Mae Beavers sponsored a bill to stop the measures from moving forward.

A news release from Alexander’s office quoted the Senator describing the Corps’ plans as “unreasonable” and said, if implemented, they “will destroy remarkably good recreational opportunities and many jobs.”

“Water spills through the Cumberland River dams less than 20 percent of the time on average,” the senator said in the release. “To close off the tailwaters to fishing 100 percent of the time would be like keeping the gate down at the railroad crossing 100 percent of the time: The track isn’t dangerous when the train isn’t coming, and the tailwaters aren’t dangerous when the water isn’t spilling through the dam.”

Minutes from the Clay County commission’s meeting explained they passed their resolution for the “sole purpose” of  opposing the Corps’ intentions “to restrict all forms of water access” above and below the dam here on Dale Hollow and “water adjacent to Corps-owned locks and dams on the Cumberland River and its adjoining tributaries.”

In a recent news release, Beavers said her resolution compliments measures being taken by Alexander and other state leaders to stop the Corps’ restrictions.

Beavers’ resolution calls on the Corps “to hold the current plan in abeyance until alternative plans are investigated that promote both boater safety and recognition of the outstanding fishing and tourism opportunity in these areas.”

Alexander said his legislation would require the Corps to conduct an environmental impact review before it could restrict public access to the fishing waters below ten dams on the Cumberland River. The senator said this process would likely take more than a year and would include multiple comment periods, as well as give Congress time to determine if the funding required for the safety barriers on the Cumberland River is in the best interest of public safety and the American taxpayer.

The senator, who is the senior Republican on the Senate committee overseeing Corps funding, also said that he “wanted to know exactly where the $2.6 million that the Corps plans to use to erect physical barriers is coming from during these tight budget times.”

Beavers’ legislation claims the waters, “and the fish therein are publicly-owned resources held in trust by the State of Tennessee for the citizens.”  It says the 1996 restrictions being implemented by the Corp are based on bank full conditions with major spillway gates open.  This is done “without recognition for either the current economic conditions or more normal water flow levels,” the resolution continues.

In addition, Beavers’ resolution claims that historic safety data does not support the current proposal being implemented by the Corps.

“We have not seen data showing that the accident rate is higher in these waters than other waters,” Beavers said in the news release.  “There has got to be a better way for the Corps to address safety concerns, whether it is targeting measures to the time during which the spillway gate is open or tougher enforcement of current boater safety laws.

“Fishermen have used these waters since these dams have been in existence,” she continued.  “This resolution just lets the Corps and our congressional delegation know that it is that the State of Tennessee, through their elected representatives, is asking them to reconsider these restrictions.  The action to close the waters, which have some of the highest fish catch rates, would negatively impact fishing, recreation and tourism in my Senatorial district.  It will have an economic impact on many citizens in the Middle Tennessee region.”

The Corps did respond to Alexander’s announcement made below the structure at Old Hickory immediately after the gathering, but explained they could not comment on the Senator’s plans to introduce his bill.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District, was honored to host U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander today at Old Hickory Lock and Dam,” they said in a statement on their website.  “During Senator’s Alexander’s visit, members of the District had the opportunity to show him the hazards (to include spilling and generating releases) within the proposed restricted areas and discuss the District’s commitment to providing for the Public Safety while coming into compliance with ER 1130-2-520.

“As to the proposed legislation that Senator Alexander announced, the Corps cannot comment on pending or proposed legislation.”

If the Corps’ plans are implemented, signs, barriers, and buoys will be installed above and below dams all over Middle Tennessee and Kentucky, including here on Dale Hollow Lake.

Locally, anglers can expect to see waters below Dale Hollow Dam closed from the structure 500 feet downstream and 100 feet from the dam on the lake side.

The possible closures are being implimented to bring the Nashville District “into full compliance” with Corps regulations, a release announcing the Corps’ plans on their website said.

The same information explained the restricted areas will be the minimum area allowed per Corps regulations upstream and downstream of locks, dams, and power plant facilities.

“All forms of water access within the restricted areas will be prohibited including boating, swimming and wading,” the release said.  “The Corps continues to allow bank fishing in all areas that were previously approved, including areas adjacent to some restricted areas.”

“We understand the tightened restricted areas in the Nashville District may be unpopular, but it is necessary for the district to enforce a more restrictive policy that complies more effectively with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ ER 1130-2-520, Chapter 10,” Freddie Bell, chief of the Natural Resource Management Branch, said in the December 13, 2012 announcement. “The increased restriction will also provide the highest level of public safety and address physical security issues.”

The Corps sites safety concerns as evidence towards the relevance of the restrictions.

For the complete Corps news release, visit their website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil.  For Alexander’s complete news release visit www.alexander.senate.gov and Beaver’s release can be found at www.maebeavers.com.