Monday, April 21, 2014 · 12:33 a.m.

Corps of Engineers threatens closure of prime fishing areas

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Whether on the Tennessee River or Cumberland River, the tailwater areas immediately beneath dams provide excellent fishing opportunities for hundreds of thousands of fishing trips every year. (Photo: Richard Simms)

There is a controversy brewing in Middle Tennessee that every fisherman in Tennessee—and across the country—should know about.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering a plan to close access to tailwater areas immediately below all dams on the Cumberland River. That would include popular fishing areas such as Cheatham Dam, Old Hickory, Percy Priest and Center Hill. They might not be areas that you and I fish regularly, but if they get shut down, might they simply be the first dominoes to fall across the state?

Tennessee has nearly 1 million citizens who fish, and most of them realize know that tailwater areas immediately beneath dams are often some of the most productive waters on the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers.

On the Tennessee River, dams are jointly operated with TVA controlling hydroelectric facilities and water flow, while the Corps of Engineers is responsible for navigation (the locks). However, on the Cumberland River system, it's a one-man show—the Corps of Engineers controls it all.

According to TWRA spokesperson Doug Markham, the Corps of Engineers released only a short emailed statement to a reporter that read, "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District is currently in the process of finalizing a plan to restrict boat access to hazardous waters directly upstream and downstream of all hydroelectric power plant facilities along the Cumberland River and its tributaries. When the implementation plan is finalized, the corps will release the information to the public."

A week ago, Sen. Lamar Alexander sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, saying, "I am writing to express my concerns about your decision to restrict access to fishing areas in dam tailwaters on the Cumberland River system and recommend that you reconsider that decision.

"The Cumberland River system is a significant source of enjoyment for Tennesseans and visitors from around the world. Those who enjoy fishing and the businesses that serve them benefit from the open access of the Cumberland River system, and the revenue that is generated by these activities is an important part of Tennessee’s economy."

The pretense of the closure is for reason of safety.

"It is my understanding that the current practice has not resulted in a significantly higher risk to public safety than is experienced at other dams across the country," Alexander wrote.

Bobby Wilson, TWRA chief of fisheries, sent a letter expressing the importance of Cumberland tailwater fisheries and the potential negative impact of closing down access.

"A decision to restrict access will annually eliminate thousands of trips made by sport anglers and commercial fishing guides," Wilson said. "We strongly urge you to consider other alternatives and seek public comment as you move forward on this question."

Fishermen are up in arms, and Internet fishing forums are ablaze with antagonistic talk.

Meanwhile, the current commander of the Nashville District, Lt. Col. James A. DeLapp, has so far refused to comment.

If you want to help keep any dominoes from falling, here are some addresses and people to contact with your concerns:

—Lt. Col. James A. DeLapp
Commander, Nashville District
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
P.O. Box 1070
Nashville, TN 37202-1070

Sen. Lamar Alexander (statewide representation)

Sen. Bob Corker (statewide representation)

Rep. Diane Black (District 6)

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (District 7)

Rep. Jim Cooper (District 5)

Rep. Scott DesJarlais (District 4)

Corps of Engineers Facebook page

Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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