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Corps to block dam fishing; furor grows
Dec 19, 2012 12:00 am
Despite opposition from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, and area anglers, the U.S. Corps of Engineers plans to stretch cables below several area dams to block access to fishermen and boaters.
The controversial plan -- which involves dams on Old Hickory, Percy Priest, Cordell Hull, Cheatham and Dale Hollow – had been in the works for months. News of the plan leaked out last month and an outcry was immediately raised by the TWRA, fishermen and even Sen. Alexander.
The Corps initially indicated it would hold off until it got more “input” from the public. However, last Thursday it announced plans to proceed despite the wide-spread objections.
Calling the churning waters “risky and highly dangerous,” the Corps plans to keep boaters out by stretching a cable from bank to bank below the dams. The restricted area will vary from dam to dam, but will average approximately 500 feet.
That is the prime fishing area for such species as rockfish, striper hybrids, catfish and sauger.
Fishermen will still be allowed to fish from the banks immediately below the dams, but not from boats out in the stream.
“You’re talking about some prime fishing areas,” said Bobby Wilson, TWRA Fisheries Chief. “I can’t imagine fishermen being happy with this at all.”
“I’m going to fight it as hard as I can,” said professional guide Bill Bethel, whose clients include several past and present members of the Tennessee Titans and numerous country music stars. “I’m in the process of getting a protest organized.”
Bethel is directing his ire toward Nashville District Corps Commander Lt. Col. Jim DeLapp.
“This guy arbitrarily decides to shut down some of the best fishing in Tennessee,” Bethel said. “I don’t see how he can possibly get away with it. The Corps is a federally-funded agency and has to answer to somebody in Washington.”
The Corps cites safety concerns as the reason for the ban, noting that since 1970 14 people have died in accidents below the dams.
However, during that same period, 868 people have drowned in the lakes above the dams.
“By the Corps’ reasoning, boating and fishing should be banned on the entire lake,” Bethel said. “I’ve fished below these dams for decades and never had an accident.”
Signs are posted on the banks warning boaters that they are entering dangerous waters, and wearing a life jacket is mandatory at all times. However the Corps decided that is not sufficient.
Ironically, even though the TWRA opposes the restrictions, it is its responsibility to enforce them and issue citations for violators.
DeLapp indicated the Corps’ position is inflexible and that no further discussion will be entertained. However, he plans to hold some public meetings to explain implementation of the controversial new rules. Times and locations have not been announced.
Access below dams on the TVA-managed Tennessee River remains unchanged, even though the waters there are as turbulent as those below the Cumberland River’s Corps-managed dams.