Thursday, October 2, 2014 · 12:22 a.m.

Sen. Lamar Alexander threatens legislative action if corps won't back down

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Sen. Lamar Alexander. (Photo: Staff)

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander said he is prepared to take legislative action if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refuses to back down on its plan to completely close boating access to tailwater areas on the Cumberland River and its tributaries.

Biologists in Tennessee and Kentucky say the areas are some of the most productive fishing waters on the Cumberland at times.

Alexander, Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and others held a Tuesday afternoon conference call to discuss their meeting with Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Capitol, discussing the corps’ plan to restrict access to fishing areas in dam tailwaters along the Cumberland River.

“The tailwaters are only dangerous when the water is spilling through the dam, and when it’s not, tailwaters provide some of the best fishing areas in the U.S., attracting thousands of fishermen and creating hundreds of jobs in Tennessee and Kentucky," Alexander said. "The most logical solution would be to make the area safe when the danger exists: To close 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 is not dangerous when the train is not coming, and the tailwaters are not dangerous when the water is not spilling through the dam.”

Alexander said there were no indications that the corps intended to back down from its previously announced plan to block tailwater access using physical barriers. The plan is expected to cost $2.6 million.

A letter drafted by Alexander and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Director Ed Carter said, "Tennessee knows all too well how unnecessary projects—particularly of the federal variety—can soak up money that could otherwise go toward other priorities. In this case, the $2.6 million for the corps' barrier plan will take money away from other critical projects."

The last of four public meetings hosted by the corps was held Tuesday night. An estimated 350 people attended the meeting protesting the planned action. However, at each meeting, corps officials have simply shared information about the planned closure and allowed opponents to speak, offering no indication they will change their plan.

Alexander said one alternative for opposing the corps' plans is through upcoming appropriations legislation.

Alexander is ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Energy and Water Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the Army Corps of Engineers.

Click here to read an editorial on the corps' plan and here to read the letter written by Alexander and Carter.

Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.

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