Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tn.) met Monday with Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy, asking her to delay by seven months the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed fishing restrictions in tailwaters below dams on the Cumberland River. Senator Alexander said that the cut of $255 million, or roughly 5 percent, that the Corps faces in the sequester’s automatic spending cuts justifies further consideration of the restrictions, and the exploration of alternatives with state agencies.
“Before the sequester, there were more important priorities than restricting fishing in waters when they aren’t hazardous. And after the sequester that's even truer,” Senator Alexander said. “If the Corps does agree to delay its plans, it ought to use that time to work with wildlife agencies in Tennessee and Kentucky to come up with a plan to ensure public safety during fishing below the dams when the waters are hazardous.”
Ms. Darcy oversees the Corps, and the meeting included Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who has filed a companion in the House to Senator Alexander’s bill to stop the Corps from erecting a $2.6 million physical barrier system at 10 dams on the Cumberland River. The senator’s legislation includes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senators Bob Corker (R-Tn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) as cosponsors, and Senator Alexander is also prepared to include language in an appropriations bill to prevent funding of the Corps’ plans.
Senator Alexander continued, “The fishing areas are only hazardous when the water is spilling through the dams, which on average is about 20 percent of the time. 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.”
Senator Alexander, who is the senior Republican on the Senate subcommittee overseeing the Corps funding, said he’d “much prefer to see the Corps of Engineers work with state wildlife agencies to come up with a plan to ensure public safety without restricting fishing than to pass a federal law.”
“Men and women from all over America have been fishing these waters for generations,” Senator Alexander said. “To put an abrupt stop to this on public lands is unreasonable.”
State officials have said safety concerns can be addressed by anglers adhering to current requirements, and by making changes to policy that would be far less restrictive than the Corps’ plan.
Ms. Darcy was appointed by President Obama in August 2009 to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, which establishes policies and supervises the Department of the Army functions relating to all aspects of the U.S Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works program. This includes work performed on Corps programs for conservation and development of the nation's water and wetland resources, flood control and navigation.