Some of the best fishing waters in Tennessee are about to be removed from public access. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently confirmed plans to ban boat access below several dams, including Old Hickory, Cheatham, J. Percy Priest, Cordell Hull, Center Hill, and Dale Hollow.
District Commander Lt. Col. Jim DeLapp is claiming safety as the chief concern, but the numbers don't support it. Of all the deaths that have occurred on Tennessee's rivers and reservoirs over the last 50 years, less than three percent were below the dams. And almost all of those were the result of failure to wear or properly inflate a life jacket as required by law.
Former Cheatham Lake Resource Manager Mike Patterson said it best in an open letter recently:
"I served over 30 years as a Corps of Engineers Resource Manager at Cheatham Lake in Tennessee and Assistant Resource Manager at Lake Cumberland in Kentucky. I and my staffs worked on water safety issues on a daily basis, and we are professionals with extensive knowledge and experience regarding tailwater safety. During my 18 years as a Resource Manager at Cheatham Lake there was never a single drowning of a boating fisherman in the tailwaters immediately downstream of the dam. Nor was there a recorded drowning in the history of the facility previous to my stint as Resource Manager.
"Statistics throughout the District simply do not support the Commander's decision to prohibit thousands of safe fishermen from enjoying the quality fishing in the tailwaters immediately adjacent to our dams. But LTC DeLapp ignores those facts and instead proposes to unfairly penalize tailwater fishermen. His perceived safety issues are simply not realized by accident statistics and accident rates. During my career, I served under approximately 18 previous district commanders, and none of them ever saw the need to ban boating fishermen from our tailwaters, because there was never a valid reason to do so."
More than a million Tennesseans enjoy fishing each year, with an economic impact in the billions of dollars. This action would undoubtedly have significant impacts on untold numbers of guides, bait shops, hotels and other associated jobs and revenues. It seems to be a solution in search of a problem, and the way the Corps has gone about it is alarming.
There are alternatives to this proposal that LTC DeLapp's own resource management personnel, Tennessee and Kentucky Wildlife Resources Agencies, and Senator Lamar Alexander and Congressman Jim Cooper have recommended. But Col. DeLapp has refused to consider them.
The Corps needs to hear from the sportsmen and women of this state at the highest level. Please click here to access our public policy outreach system (you'll only have to register once). From there, click on LOCAL BILLS to send an email to Commanding General Thomas P. Bostick and our Congressional delegation, and let them know you oppose the unnecessary closure of our world-class tailwater fisheries.
Two public meetings have recently been set in Tennessee, and we hope you'll join us:
Tuesday, Jan. 15 in Nashville
McGavock High School Auditorium
3150 McGavock Pike
6 p.m. to 8 p.m. CST
Thursday, Jan. 17 in Baxter
Upperman High School Auditorium
6950 Nashville Highway
6 p.m. to 8 p.m. CST
The Tennessee Wildlife Federation