LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Anglers who caught the attention of federal lawmakers have preserved access to fishing below dams on the Cumberland River in Kentucky and Tennessee.
President Barack Obama on Monday signed into law a bill blocking the Army Corps of Engineers from erecting barriers to prevent fishing in the tailwaters. Those tailwaters are prime fishing spots in a region known as a recreational haven.
Local officials said the restrictions would have hurt tourism, a key contributor to the region’s economy.
Congress waded into the controversy by passing the Freedom to Fish Act. It puts a two-year moratorium on any barriers that would block access to tailwaters.
Sen. Mitch McConnell praised Obama for reversing a decision to place barriers along the river.
A proposal to permanently ban barriers is pending in the House.
Note: News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander below (interestingly, it doesn’t mention Obama)
News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:
WASHINGTON, June 3 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today announced that the two-year ban stopping the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from restricting fishing below dams on the Cumberland River, passed first by the Senate and then by the House, has officially become law.
“Now the Corps is required, by law, to stop wasting taxpayer dollars and ignoring elected officials who are standing up for fishermen,” Alexander said.
The legislation that became law today prohibits the Corps from implementing existing fishing restrictions for two years, while also delegating enforcement below the dams to state agencies in Tennessee and Kentucky. The U.S. Senate unanimously supported this legislation on May 16, and the House passed it on May 21.
In addition to today’s two-year ban, on May 15 the U.S. Senate passed Alexander’s permanent solution as part of the Water Resources Development Act. This permanent solution would prevent the Corps from establishing permanent physical barriers, and from taking any further action until the Corps ensures that restrictions downstream of the 10 dams on the Cumberland River are based on actual operating conditions – instead of 24 hours a day. The Water Resources Development Act would also give sole responsibility for enforcement of the restricted area below the dams to the states and require that the Corps seek and consider public comment before taking further action. The House has not yet taken up its version of the Water Resources Development Act, which Alexander said made it necessary to pass a two-year ban in the meantime.
The Corps had proceeded with its plan to restrict access below 10 dams along the Cumberland River in Tennessee and Kentucky, despite the Senate’s unanimous support for an amendment to the budget resolution in March that would allow Congress to prohibit the Corps’ plans. Alexander had also held numerous meetings with Corps officials encouraging them to find a compromise with state agencies, and after they refused, he said on May 8 he would restrict Corps funding in his role as the Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.
Alexander’s legislation, known as the “Freedom to Fish Act,” was cosponsored by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). A similar version was sponsored in the house by U.S. Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Andy Barr (R-Ky.).