U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, (KY-01), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, today announced that he has formally introduced legislation to prevent the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) from installing permanent blockades along the Cumberland River. This measure, known as the Freedom to Fish Act, enables boating access to river tailwaters to continue for sportsmen and recreational fishermen.
"I am fed up with the Corps' lack of public consideration in their process to prohibit access to tailwaters near dams on the Cumberland River," stated Whitfield. "I'm also frustrated that the Corps in numerous meetings at all levels has placated the public rather than attempting to work with us to reach a compromise. This has left me with no other choice than to seek a legislative solution to the Corps' overreach."
On December 5, 2012, the USACE, Nashville District re-evaluated its operations for Restricted Areas for Hazardous Waters at dams, which were originally implemented on November 29, 1996. Despite the current practice to allow fishing in the tailwaters since 1996, the Corps recently came up with a new interpretation of their regulations and determined that they needed to permanently restrict access to the tailwaters. Therefore, the Nashville District changed its Operational Management Plans at the following locations: Barkley, Wolf Creek, Laurel and Martins Fork dams in Kentucky, and Cheatham, K. Percry Priest, Old Hickory, Cordell Hull, Center Hill and Dale Hollow in Tennessee, to come in compliance with their new interpretation.
As a result of the new interpretation, the USACE, Nashville District announced they plan to establish a 24-hour permanent restriction prohibiting all waterborne access to waters immediately upstream and downstream of all dams. Installation of signs, buoys and physical barriers at projects will occur by April 2013. Once these control measures are in place, the Corps will maintain a presence that will prohibit waterborne entry and activities within the restricted area boundaries.
Since learning of the Corps of Engineers Nashville District's decision to fully enforce restricted boating access along the dams, Whitfield has tried seeking alternative solutions to permanent blockades.
Below is a timeline of Whitfield's work on this issue.
December 20, 2012: Rep. Whitfield participates in a conference call with County Judges White and Lasher, and Lt. Colonel DeLapp, Commander of the Nashville district of the USACE. On the call, Whitfield requests that Lt. Colonel DeLapp consider all options to increase public safety. He also requests that the Corps allow public input before the barriers are constructed.
December 21, 2012: Rep. Whitfield sends a letter to Lt. General Thomas Bostick, Commanding General and Chief of Engineers for the USACE. In the letter, Whitfield relays Judges White and Lasher's concerns regarding permanent barriers.
January 10, 2013: Rep. Whitfield attends a public meeting with nearly 200 other people hosted by USACE in Grand Rivers to seek public input regarding the proposed barriers.
February 5, 2013: Rep. Whitfield meets with Major General Michael Walsh to further discuss restrictions and to urge USACE to re-examine the decision to permanently restrict boating access to the tailwaters. Also attending the meeting are United States Senator Lamar Alexander and Congressman Jim Cooper. During this meeting, the County Judges and Rep. Whitfield offer a compromise to restrict the tailwater zone only at times when the dam is operating.
February 15, 2013: Rep. Whitfield publicly demands that the USACE come up with an alternative to a permanent blockade along Cumberland River dams. He also releases a discussion draft of a bill that would require an environmental assessment study prior to taking any action to establish permanent blockades.
February 26, 2013: Realizing that the USACE is unwilling to settle for a reasonable alternative, Whitfield introduces legislation preventing the installment of permanent blockades.