The provision, which was secured by Senator McConnell, institutes a “permanent ban” on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ ability to enforce any attempt to restrict public access to fish the tailwaters of the Barkley and Wolf Creek Dams in Kentucky – some of the most popular fishing areas in the state - by giving states the ability to determine how best to regulate public access to these areas. The language also prohibits the Army Corps from ever constructing physical barriers to these public areas or even attempting to implement any kind of a restricted area using signs in the Cumberland River basin for four years following enactment of WRRDA.
“This is outstanding news for the thousands of Kentuckians and fishing enthusiasts from far away who have enjoyed the pleasure of fishing the tailwaters below Lake Barkley and Wolf Creek dams along the Cumberland River,” Senator McConnell said. “My measure will permanently prevent the Obama Administration from blocking fishing access to the area, which would have hurt tourism in the area and depressed the local economy.”
On March 19, 2013, McConnell met with Lt. Col. Jim DeLapp, former Nashville Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to discuss the Army Corps’ attempt to barricade these waters. In the meeting, McConnell reiterated his opposition to the Army Corps’ plan and said he would continue to work to prevent the installation of the barricades. On February 12, 2013, McConnell sent a letter to the head of the Army Corps, Jo-Ellen Darcy, voicing his opposition to the administration’s plan.
On Feb. 28, 2013, Senators McConnell, Rand Paul, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker introduced the Freedom to Fish Act to prevent the Army Corps from blocking fishing access to the tailwaters of the Barkley and Wolf Creek Dams. Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) introduced the House companion bill.
On April 13, 2013, Senator McConnell met with local elected officials, anglers and local residents at Lake Barkley to hear firsthand their concerns regarding the Army Corps’ plan and was told that the proposal to block access to these waters would have a major detrimental impact on the communities near these dams.
On May 15, 2013, the Senate passed its initial version of the Water Resources and Development Act, which included the McConnell Freedom to Fish provision.
On May 16, 2013, the Senate passed a separate bill introduced by McConnell to delay, for two-years, the Army Corps’ ability to restrict public access to these areas, allowing time for the Conference Committee to produce a final WRRDA bill. Senator McConnell’s delay measure was signed into law by the President on June 3, 2013.
On August 28, 2013, Senator McConnell—along with Senator Paul—wrote House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster requesting that he include the permanent Freedom to Fish language in his committee’s bill and in the final WRRDA.
On May 16, 2014, Senator McConnell was successful in securing his Freedom to Fish language in the WRRDA. Senator McConnell’s provision continues a “permanent ban” on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ ability to enforce any attempt to restrict public access to fish the tailwaters of the Barkley and Wolf Creek Dams in Kentucky – some of the most popular fishing areas in the state.
On May 20, 2014, Senator McConnell’s Freedom to Fish is passed by the House of Representatives.
On May 22, 2014, Senator McConnell’s Freedom to Fish provision is passed by the Senate.
On June 10, 2014, the President signs Senator McConnell’s Freedom to Fish provision into law.
Information provided by Robert Steurer
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