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Corps controversy heats up, rages on
Jan 23, 2013 12:00 am
I’ve talked to various Corps of Engineers officials in recent weeks about the controversial plan to block boats from the rough, treacherous waters below its area dams.
The Corps insists it’s doing it for one simple reason: to save lives.
But critics, including veteran fishermen and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, claim safety is not a concern. They oppose blocking off the popular fishing areas.
So why is the Corps doing it? Is it simply a glutton for punishment? Does it enjoy creating an uproar and angering a large segment of the public for no reason?
So far I haven’t been able to discover an ulterior motive by the Corps.
Corps officials insist that the only reason they want to block boats from entering the water below its dams is because it is treacherous and dangerous. In the past boats have capsized and people have drowned, and the Corps says it wants to prevent it from happening again.
By April it plans to have cables installed immediately below such area dams as Old Hickory, Percy Priest, Cordell Hull, Dale Hollow and Cheatham to block boat access to the generation portion of the water.
Even if it has good intentions, the Corps erred in not advising the public of the plan well in advance and explaining why it deems it necessary. A public meeting was scheduled last week but postponed due to bad weather. It was rescheduled for Feb. 5 at McGavock High School from 6-8 p.m.
Public policy should always be made public. Otherwise, even well-intended policies such as dam safety and the TWRA’s wild hog control program creates suspicion.
If an agency is going to make a drastic change in how it manages a public resource – from wild hogs to tailwaters – it has an obligation to inform the public beforehand. It’s to the agency’s advantage – it helps smooth the way by explaining why it’s doing what it’s doing.
It’s also wise to seek input from the people who will be affected by the changes – namely, hunters and fishermen. Often they have some good ideas to offer.
I’ve done a considerable amount of fishing below Cheatham, Cordell Hull and Old Hickory dams over the years, and never had a problem in the fast water. But I generally fish with an expert – someone like Bill Bethel or Jim Duckworth. They have good, reliable boats and know how to operate them.
Unfortunately, not every boater is as experienced and responsible. I’ve seen fishermen without life jackets standing up in tiny boats that rocked and churned in the violent currents. It made you hold your breath. It was like watching a kid playing with a live hand grenade. Any second the boat could flip, and once the fishermen went overboard only a miracle could save them from drowning in the violent undertow.
The Corps is correct on that point: those waters CAN be dangerous if someone’s not careful, and is in violation of the mandatory life jacket requirement.
I suppose the debate comes down to this: do we have a responsibility to protect the clueless and careless from themselves? The Corps believes we do, and is willing to incur the ire of scores of fishermen to perhaps save the life of one unsafe boater. At least that’s its explanation for what it’s doing.
If someone knows of a different motive, they need to speak up.