McConnell’s Bill to Block Fishing Barriers Near Dams Becomes Law

President Barack Obama has signed a bill championed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to block the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from restricting access to dams on the Cumberland River.

As I reported last month, the Army Corps proposed blocking access to the dams for safety reasons.

But Corps officials say the proposal is intended to close up a loophole and help the Corps comply with federal regulations that require them to limit access to the dams; mechanical processes can begin with little notice, and powerful currents can trap people and boats. Since 2009, three people have died in similar accidents.

Freddie Bell is the Chief of Natural Resources with the Army Corps’ Nashville District. He says the Corps’ proposal is about public safety.

“This is not about restricting fishing,” he said. “There’s great fishing on the lakes. The areas we are restricting is at the dam site itself and it represents only a small fraction of the total tailwater area below our lakes.”

McConnell’s bill places a two year moratorium on the placement of any barriers near the Barkley or Wolf Creek dams. A measure that would permanently block the Corps from blocking access to the dams was included in the Water Resources Development Act–a piece of legislation that hasn’t yet become law. In a statement, McConnell said this temporary measure will protect fishing near the dam until the other bill becomes law.

“I appreciate the President signing the legislation into law and reversing the Administration’s decision to place barriers and restrict fishing along the Cumberland River,” Sen. McConnell said. “No one I know in Kentucky supported this plan—not fishermen and boaters, not local elected officials, and not the Kentucky Division of Fish and Wildlife. I saw that firsthand when I attended the Freedom to Fish Rally with local leaders at Barkley Dam in April, where I had a chance to talk with many area fishermen and business owners about the disastrous effect the Army Corps plan would have had on their livelihoods. Today, their voices were heard and the Administration’s plan to install barriers along the river will stop.”

In the press releases I’ve seen, McConnell hasn’t addressed the possible safety issues associated with fishing right below locks and dams.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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