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Lyon Co. Judge: Corps of Engineers Not Transparent
By Wade White, Lyon County Judge-Executive
EDDYVILLE, KY - Lyon County Judge-Executive submitted the following editorial about the proposed Barkley Dam restrictions:

As you may have heard over the past few weeks the Nashville District Corps of Engineers plans to restrict access to 10 dams on the Cumberland River which includes Barkley Dam. First, I do want to say this battle to protect our right to fish those areas do not involve our local Barkley Dam Corps employees or management. I have many friends who work for the Corps and hope no one is holding them responsible for this issue. Michael Looney, Barkley Dam Resource Manager, does a great job and is an asset to our community. He personally briefed our county emergency team daily during the recent flood and I appreciate him a great deal. The move to barricade comes from the Nashville District Office.

What should we expect from government or a government agency?  Should we expect transparency or the truth to be reported by the agency?  I sure expect it - and demand it - from my office and others whether it is a state or federal agency.  Last week, Judge Lasher and I, met with Major General Michael Walsh, Director of Civil Works for the Corps and other federal legislators and representatives of legislators. In my memo to the General, I pointed out his own words about transparency. In 2012, the Corps made headlines by “reinvigorating” their own policy regarding how they perform activities and deal with others.  One of their core principles they reinvigorated is below:

Employ an open and transparent process that respects the views of individuals and groups interested in Corps activities 

In his statement embracing these principles, Major General Michael Walsh, Deputy Commanding General for Civil Works said:

“It was time to take another look, to reinvigorate them (Core Principles) and remind everyone of their importance and applicability. Besides, it’s something that people expect us to be doing.”

I agree, we do expect transparency but we are not getting it from the Nashville District. Here are only two examples:

From the beginning of this debate in November, 2012, District Commander DeLapp has stated safety is the number one reason given for the proposed barricades.  He said, “14 drownings over 42 years at 10 dams is the number one reason for this major re-evaluation of the regulation.”

Here is the truth:

Since 1970, when the Corps began keeping records, zero drownings have been reported in the tailwaters at 6 of the 10 dams on the Cumberland. Also, not a single drowning has been reported since 1970 when the spill gates are closed at any of the 10 dams, despite millions of visitor hours to these specific tailwater areas which are suddenly being considered for barricades. It’s during non-spill times when we want to fish.

Using a freedom of information request this is the information I discovered.

   14  Number of drownings reported by Corps at 10 dams since 1970
Of those 14 reported by the Corps -
-   5 Drownings from bank fishing (which will still be allowed)
-   2 Drowning from “unknown” causes
-   3 Drownings occurred when water discharged “without warning” by the Corps
-   4 too close to gate during spilling - and only 1 victim was wearing a life vest properly

Despite the Corps’ knowledge of only 4 drownings occurring when getting too close to an open spill gate, all letters and reports to the media from the Nashville District still state 14 drownings. By the way, 881 have drowned on the lakes and beaches above the dams. 

Another example is, per their own policy, they are to work with federal, state and local agencies when making changes to their plans. They are required by their own policy to provide a copy of the options and information as to why they plan to make a change and barricade the river. But, even through a freedom of information act request I made they have redacted all that information.  Despite the freedom of information request I made they still will not show us what their own policy requires them to show us. I DO expect more out of our government agencies. 

So if you need another reason to demand the Corps halt what they are doing beyond 1) these waters belong to us, or 2) this will be detrimental to our local economy, or 3) zero drownings have occurred in 42 years when spill gates are closed, or 4) we can solve this with more warning lights and buoys, or 5) they will spend $2.7 million we don’t have, or 6) we have a heritage of 44 years fishing there – how about we just expect transparency from our government agencies!  We are not getting it. 

I thank Governor Beshear, Senators McConnell and Paul, Congressman Whitfield, State Senator Stan Humphries, State Representative Lynn Bechler, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, many Judge Executives and countless individuals and representatives from Kentucky and Tennessee who joined us in asking the Corps to be transparent. So far - all this pressure has not worked. 

However, we believe our visit to Washington last week has sparked a movement by TN Senator Lamar Alexander and U.S. Congressman Ed Whitfield to file federal legislation to stop the barricades.  There is a press conference/rally planned by Senator Lamar Alexander at Old Hickory Dam on February 21st at 11:00am in Nashville.  I hope an announcement of legislation will come from this rally. 

Wade White
Lyon County Judge Executive


Published 11:25 PM, Friday Feb. 15, 2013
Updated 05:33 PM, Friday Feb. 15, 2013

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