Officials plead case with Army Corps of Engineers

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Associated Press

Posted on February 6, 2013 at 2:01 PM

PADUCAH, Ky. (AP) — If the Army Corp of engineers doesn't back off a proposal to close fishing waters near dams on the Cumberland River, lawmakers from Kentucky and Tennessee may take up the issue in Congress.

Media reported that two western Kentucky county officials joined U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee in a meeting Tuesday with Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, the Corps' deputy commander. The group discussed possible alternatives to closing the waters directly above and below the 10 dams the agency operates on the river and its tributaries, but no decisions were made.

The waters are plentiful with fish and attract anglers, but the corps has said the action is necessary for safety.

Whitfield and Alexander say they are prepared to file legislation if discussions don't produce a satisfactory resolution.

"There is a logical solution to the problem, which is close the area when it is dangerous and open it when it is safe and give people plenty of warning about the difference," Alexander told reporters during a conference call after the meeting.

He said safety options could include the installation of better warnings and alarms and putting up buoys when spillways are opened, Alexander said.

"These are some of the most important fisheries anywhere in the United States," Alexander said. "For most of the time, they are absolutely safe. What is not safe is to go near the dams when they are open and spilling water."

Kentucky officials say they are hopeful that the meeting will make a difference.

"We met for about 30 minutes, I would say," Whitfield said after the meeting. "They listened to us politely. We asked questions, they answered questions and asked some of their own. We had a nice dialogue."

Livingston County Judge-Executive Chris Lasher and Lyon County Judge-Executive Wade White traveled to Washington for the meeting.

"I do feel like we got our point across," Lasher said. "It certainly was worth coming up here. We are hoping that they will take our suggestion to work together to heart."

The meeting came hours before a public information meeting in Nashville on the proposed closures. Lt. Col. Jim DeLapp, commander of the Corps of Engineers Nashville District, was asked before the meeting if he had any response to the comments by Alexander and Whitfield.

"I haven't talked to the headquarters to see how that meeting went, so there's no way for me to really have any comment on it at the time," DeLapp said. "The (possible) legislation is new to me."

Several people who attended the public meeting were against the regulations.

"To me, instead of spending money to pay for the restrictions, maybe they should implement fines for people who don't wear life jackets and follow the rules that are already in place. Don't restrict people like me that go down to Cheatham and Old Hickory and sauger fish and follow the rules," Benny Stover of Nashville said.

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