Has plug been pulled on Corps dam plan?

Larry Woody • Updated Jul 26, 2013 at 11:46 PM

April arrived without any of the boat-blocking barriers the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned to have installed below several dams in Middle Tennessee and Kentucky.

The Corps initially set April as the date for having the barriers in place below dams on Old Hickory, Percy Priest, Cordell Hull, Cheatham and a number of other popular fishing waters.

But in response to an angler uprising, several influential politicians vowed to fight the proposal and so far they have been successful – although the Corps has not conceded the battle.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander introduced legislation in March delaying the installation of the barriers pending further study, and similar action has been supported by State Senator Mae Beavers of Wilson County. Politicians in Kentucky also are fighting the Corps’ proposal.

The Corps wants to block boats from entering the swift water immediately below its dams for safety reasons, but the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency – which is responsible for enforcing boating safety regulations – says the Corps’ concerns are exaggerated.

“There’s no need to block those waters and deprive fishermen of some of the best fishing in the state,” said TWRA spokesman Doug Markham.

The TWRA, along with the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, has vocally opposed the Corps plan.

The Corps wants to stretch cables with large buoys from the dams’ lock wall to the bank, which would prevent boats from entering the waters churned by generation. The blocked-off distances would vary from dam to dam, but could be as much as hundreds of yards down-river.

Fishermen would still be permitted to fish in the blocked-off area from the bank.

“It’s a terrible idea,” says Lebanon guide Jim Duckworth. “At a time when the federal government is buried in debt, the Corps wants to spend around $3 million on something like that? It’s absolutely ridiculous.”

A Corps official who discussed the situation under an agreement of anonymity said he favored a compromise.

“Is that fast water below dams dangerous? Absolutely. We’ve had several accidents and drownings over the years. Somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing is risking their life when they take a small boat into that churning water during periods of generation.

“But it would be possible to block off the really dangerous area without blocking off the water further down. It could be made safer without sacrificing the fishing.”

Veteran guide Bill Bethel, who specializes in catching big rockfish in the fast water, disagrees. He says any blockage will spoil the fishing.

“The rough water is where the fish are,” says Bethel, whose clients include members of the Tennessee Titans and country music entertainers.

Bethel adds: “They already have signs warning boaters about the fast water, and sirens to alert people when they’re about to start generating. Life jackets are required when fishing below the dams, but a lot of boaters don’t wear them. If they’d enforce the rules they already have, they wouldn’t need to make more.”

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