Sunday, November 23, 2014 · 8:02 p.m.
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In announcing a plan to restrict boat access beneath Cumberland River dams, the corps says it intends to construct buoy line barriers, a series of floating barrels and cables stretched across the waterway that prevents the passage of boats. (Photo: Contributed)

At a news conference today at Old Hickory Dam, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander told a gathering of anglers and other community members that he will introduce legislation next week to delay the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ “unreasonable plan to restrict fishing below Cumberland River dams that 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. “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.”

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 10 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.”

Alexander was joined at today’s event by Ed Carter, executive director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and Mike Butler, chief executive officer of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.

Carter told the gathering, “These are extremely important waters for economic and recreational reasons, and there are alternative ways to address the safety issues for boating anglers.”

Mike Butler said, “These are public waters, owned by the citizens and held in trust by the state, and they offer some of the best fishing to be found anywhere. The notion of completely banning boats from our world-class tailwater fisheries without any public input is alarming, and the statistics show that fishing below the dams is exceedingly safe.”

Two weeks ago, Alexander and U.S. Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) met at the U.S. Capitol with Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh of the corps to press their concerns about the corps' plan. Earlier, Alexander had met with Lt. Col. James DeLapp, commander of the Nashville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The senator said he has requested a meeting with the assistant secretary of the Army to press his case that “there are more reasonable ways to achieve both the goals of public safety and allowing taxpayers to enjoy these good fishing opportunities.”

Alexander pointed out that the Tennessee Valley Authority achieves its safety goals without using physical barriers to restrict fishing access to tailwaters below its dams, instead using warning signs, strobe lights and horns at 22 of its 31 dams to warn of times when water will spill through the dams.

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