As the dates for public meetings grow closer, opposition is growing against a plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close access to tailwater areas near locks and dams on the Cumberland River and all of its tributaries.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources have both formally opposed the plan.

The TWRA executive director went up the corps chain of command and, in a strongly worded letter, told Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, “We add our voice to that of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and others in asking that you consider alternatives to the vessel prohibition restriction. The areas in which vessels would be excluded are some of the most highly desirable fishing locations in Tennessee and have been utilized as such since the dams were first completed. The local impact to tourism and outdoor business, in addition to the loss of the local recreation, will be significant and will create a great deal of adverse public reaction. Safety concerns have been cited as the driving factor for implementing this change. While we agree that any loss of life is tragic, the number of accidents which occur below dams is an extremely small percentage of boating-related accidents and fatalities. In fact, many of these corps facilities have never recorded an accident, and others may go decades without a single incident.”


According to KDFWR figures, the economic value of the recreational fishery below Lake Barkley alone is more than $3 million annually. And the area below Lake Cumberland supports the highest catch rate and harvest of trout in the entire 75-mile stretch of the Cumberland River, from the dam to the Tennessee state line.

Judge Wade White, an influential judge in Lyons County, Ky., is aggressively lobbying against the measure and has organized an online petition drive.

Yet, for now, the corps seems determined to institute the restrictions declaring that the four upcoming meetings are simply “to allow the public to respond to the pending implementation plans.” Fishermen and businesses opposed to the measure are expected to turn out in force, yet there have been no assurances that public opposition will deter the Corps of Engineers and Nashville District Commander Lt. Col. James DeLapp from the appointed mission.

Although the action does not impact fishermen on the Tennessee River or any TVA-controlled dams, every fisherman everywhere should oppose the closure because it could set a dangerous precedent for other government organizations.

I signed White’s petition, saying, “Our navigable waterways are public domain, and I believe it is beyond the Corps of Engineers’ constitutional authority to forbid public access to said waterways, especially considering that corps managers have failed to provide any reasonable justification for the measure, which is far outweighed by the social and financial benefits created by our tailwater fisheries.”

This action is a colossal bureaucratic mistake of epic proportions. I hope you’ll sign White’s petition and attend any or all of the scheduled public meetings.

When: Jan. 10, 6-8 p.m. CST
Badgett Playhouse Theater, located at 1838JH O’Bryan Ave. in Grand Rivers, Ky.

When: Jan. 15, 6-8 p.m. CST
McGavock High School Auditorium, located at 3150 McGavock Pike in Nashville, Tenn.

When: Jan. 17, 6-8 p.m. CST
Where: Upperman High School Auditorium, located at 6950 Nashville Highway in Baxter, Tenn.

When:Jan. 24, 6-8 p.m. EST
Where:Somerset Center for Rural Development, located at 2292 U.S. Highway 27, Suite 300, in Somerset, Ky. (turn off Highway 27 at traffic light 15)

Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.