Lyon Co. Judge: Dam Restriction Will Hurt Us
By Bill Hughes
EDDYVILLE, KY - The U.S. Army's Corps of Engineers held their first public meeting Thursday night to gather comments about plans to restrict access to water near dams along the Cumberland River and its tributaries - including Barkley Dam near Grand Rivers. The Badgett Playhouse was packed with more than 200 concerned fishermen and residents.
Lyon County Judge-Executive Wade White said that it was what he expected.
White said, "A lot of people showed up. We're very passionate because this is going to impact their enjoyment of being able to go below the dam but a lot of people are gonna lose money over this."
White said local commercial fishermen use the waters on either side of the dam, and there are also individuals who catch shad to sell to those commercial fishermen. In addition to this industry, White said people from across the country are contacting him, saying they travel to the dam just to fish in that area.
White cited analysis that was done by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife in 2000 that showed fishing below Barkley Dam generated income near $3 million in tourism money. White estimated that that figure now is close to $4 million. He says that lost income plus the Corps' expense of blocking access to the dams is a substantial amount of money.
"They're taking $2 million out of an already tight budget of the Corps of Engineers, which will cause them to either close campgrounds or shut them down early, and with that $2 million they're spending, they are going to cost us around $4 million every year of tourism dollars that are coming in. We can't afford that kind of hit," White said.
The Corps of Engineers says safety is a concern in the turbulent waters below the dam, with 3 deaths, 1 person needing treatment and several near-misses requiring rescues near the dams. Fish and Wildlife told White that there has been only had one death in the last 10 years below Barkley Dam, fisherman Richard Brown on May 25, 2010. White says the Corps won't clarify the near-misses, but did cite 14 deaths below 10 dams in 42 years.
White pressed on the issue Thursday night, and learned that 5 of those deaths were people falling into the water from above, but the Corps plans to continue to allow fishing from the banks.
White said, "When you consider 9 people in 42 years in 10 locks, the statistic is so small - it's .03 percent chance that you have a drowning below the dam. It's much greater above the dam, just on the lake itself."
The regulation that the Corps of Engineers is working from in their plans to restrict access dates back to 1996, and a recent re-evaluation convinced leadership that the signs and other markers already in place are not enough. White says they are re-defining their own regulation to an extreme by proposing a permanent barrier.
"They can meet the regulation by putting up buoys that you can get past when they're not spilling. They only spill about 20 percent of the time. When the water's calm, people should be able to go in there and fish and do what they've done for years," White said.
Congressman Ed Whitfield was at the meeting Thursday, and was met with a standing ovation when he said he would go back to Washington, D.C. and do whatever he could to stop the restrictions. White says if he and Livingston County Judge-Executive Chris Lasher need to go to the nation's Capitol to talk to the right people, he's ready to go.
White pleaded with District Commander Lt. Colonel James DeLapp of the Corps of Engineers at the public meeting to be a part of the process as this issue is addressed, rather than the Corps changing the plan on its own. White said the Corps Operations Management Plan requires contacting Congressmen and local and state elected officials, issuing press releases, and holding workshops before they can change any part of the plan.
"That was our request - go back, start over, do these things before you change this Operations Management Plan, and follow what your regulations say. And that includes putting us at the table. I asked him several times,'Are you going to put me at the table?' and he wouldn't answer it direct. It was a yes or no question, and he wouldn't answer it, so we don't know if he's going to follow his own regulations or not," White said.
White's impression from the meeting was that as far as DeLapp was concerned, the issue is settled, but he and Lasher are going to continue to appeal through government channels.