Politicians and Anglers are teaming up to stop the U-S Army Corps of Engineers from installing barriers next to its dams on the Cumberland River which will keep boats from accessing the dam’s tail waters. Senators Mitch McConnell, Lamar Alexander and Rand Paul, and Congressman Ed Whitfield took part in a “Freedom to Fish Rally” this weekend at Barkley Dam to protest to Corps’ plan.
Millions of gallons of water rush out of the gates at Barkley Dam and there is not an fisherman in sight on the water. Instead, 100 or so anglers stand on the banks expressing their concern with the Corps’ proposed restrictions.
“You know we have the most to lose because we go there and I pretty much spend all my time below these dams and catch trophy fish almost every time we go,” said Clay McCord.
McCord traveled from Nashville to attend the rally. He didn’t come for the politics, just as a concerned fisherman. He says the Corps’ decision is more bureaucratic than practical.
“They’ve never been down there,” he said. “They don’t know safety the least bit. You know that’s the frustrating part is we know more than them and are willing to make a compromise and they don’t wanna.”
The corps plans to divert $3 million dollars from its current budget to build the barriers. This has many anglers outraged because some of the best fishing is close to the dam. Most of the anglers’ frustration is focused on the Corps’ Nashville District. Corps’ spokesman Freddie Bell says the barriers are part of an old regulation that was never followed.
“Since 2009 or 10 we’ve had three fatalities,” Bell said. “We’ve had several near misses. And a thorough look at our operations and an analysis of the regulation, it became clear to us that we were not fully complying with the regulation, which is to fully restrict on a permanent basis the area around our dams.”
But members of state agencies and conservation groups are voicing their own opposition to the barriers. Neal Jackson is a fisheries biologist with Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. He said there aren’t enough safety violations to prompt the Corps’ barriers.
“It’s very clear when you get out on the water when water’s coming through that dam it’s not a place that you should be,” Jackson said. “Any individual should come up with that conclusion.”
Civic leaders like Lyon County Judge-executive Wade White are worried tourism dollars will be affected. He said the Corps already has rules in place for the dam and they work just fine.
“They wrote ‘allow the public access to facilities when there is no dangerous turbulence and restrict access during discharge events.’” He cited. “Then it goes on to say ‘this is a reasonable common sense management approach.’ I agree.”
All this debate has prompted Congressman Ed Whitfield and others to introduce federal legislation to nullify the Corps’ plan. Whitfield’s bill is called the “Freedom to Fish Act.” Whitfield said with the upcoming budget battles and the new gun bill, passing the act may be harder than it seems. But he said he’ll still fight for anglers.