WASHINGTON, May 15 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced Senate passage today of a proposal he included in the Water Resources Development Act that would prohibit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from implementing its proposed fishing restrictions below dams on the Cumberland River, and delegate enforcement to state wildlife agencies.
“The U.S. Senate has once again sent a clear message to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, this time through legislation that would stop Big Brother in Washington from holding the hands of fishermen in Tennessee and Kentucky,” Alexander said. “We’re moving forward because the Corps continues to relentlessly pursue its unreasonable restrictions, wasting taxpayer dollars and ignoring elected representatives who are fighting to preserve the freedom to fish below publicly owned dams on the Cumberland River.”
Alexander’s proposal would delegate enforcement to state wildlife agencies, and require the Corps to stop taking any further action until it has re-evaluated its plans. Alexander has also said he will restrict the Corps’ ability to transfer new funds to projects if it doesn’t abandon its plans. Alexander said, “Hopefully the Corps will recognize that we have a life jacket problem, not a water problem, and agree to find a reasonable solution to keeping fishermen safe on the Cumberland River.”
The Corps is proceeding with its policy to permanently restrict access to tailwaters areas below 10 dams on the Cumberland River in Tennessee and Kentucky. The Corps did so despite the Senate’s unanimous support for an amendment to the budget resolution that would allow Congress to prohibit the Corps’ plans, as well as repeated requests for compromise from Alexander, numerous other elected officials and the state agencies that enforce boater safety requirements.
Alexander pointed to the Corps’ own statistics showing that water only spills through the dams 20 percent of the time, on average. Alexander said, “Closing off the tailwaters 100 percent of the time would be like putting the gate down over the railroad crossing 100 percent of the time – the tracks aren’t dangerous when the train’s not coming, and the water isn’t dangerous when the water isn’t spilling through the dam.”
Alexander’s proposal that was included in the Water Resources Development Act originated from his “Freedom to Fish Act,” which is cosponsored by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that supporters are also working to enact is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.).
The senator said on May 8 he would restrict Corps funding, in his role as the Ranking Member or lead Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, if the Corps did not abandon its plans. Alexander has also held numerous meetings with Corps officials in Washington and Tennessee, encouraging them to find a compromise.
Former U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee Jerry Martin, an appointee of President Obama who until stepping down recently would have been responsible for defending the Corps in court, has said the Corps’ restrictions are unreasonable “in light of the tremendous protection from liability enjoyed by the Corps.” The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has also said it will not enforce the Corps’ restrictions.