Herald-Leader Editorial

Rogers' reason vs. McConnell fuming: Endangered fish won't hurt Lake Cumberland

February 11, 2014 

Kentuckians should compare Sen. Mitch McConnell's and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers' responses to the discovery of an endangered fish in the headwaters of Lake Cumberland. The contrast is instructive.

Rogers, R-Somerset, issued a statement saying: "First and foremost, I want lake enthusiasts to know that Lake Cumberland will still be available for boating and fishing this summer with an attractive pool level, above 700 feet."

Senate Republican Leader McConnell, on the other hand, fomented panic along with displaying abject ignorance of fish. His comments were broadcast on C-Span, and a casual listener would have mistakenly assumed that Cumberland is going to be as low this summer as it was during the years that Wolf Creek Dam was under repair.

McConnell's histrionics included the phrase "no longer suitable for boating, fishing and water sports" and the implication that the lake could not be a "major driver of commerce, tourism and recreation" — even at a surface level of 705 feet.

McConnell's theme was picked up by Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown. The state House's normally level-headed Republican leader got so wound up about this "attack on our way of life" that he blamed the wrong agency for protecting the duskytail darter.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, not the Environmental Protection Agency, enforces the Endangered Species Act.

McConnell's rants were reported in RollCall and reinforced in the Bowling Green Daily News which cautioned that a tiny fish could "drown out tourism revenues."

McConnell is succeeding in spreading far and wide the inaccurate impression that Lake Cumberland will be an undesirable place to recreate this summer — and, of course, the Democrat in the White House is to blame for this action by the Army Corps of Engineers in Nashville.

This is vintage McConnell. After 29 years in Washington, he sees every challenge facing Kentucky, no matter how simple or complex, as an opportunity to sow resentment and division in order to score political points for himself.

Rogers, who, unlike McConnell, is not fighting for his political life, took a more fact-based approach that put the interests of his constituents over partisanship.

He voiced confidence that the fish could be cared for quickly and pledged to stay in close touch with the pertinent agencies.

Here's what many Cumberland patrons already know: Because the dam repairs were ahead of schedule, the water level was raised 25 feet last summer. Tourism rebounded.

That's still 18 feet below the pre-2007 level, leaving rocks and dirt visible under the treeline — a bathtub ring that's a familiar sight to Kentucky and Tennessee boaters.

The water will be at last summer's near-normal level until a conservation plan can be developed for the darter, which was placed on the endangered list 21 years ago.

Here's something else to remember: People who pull boats hundreds of miles or keep or rent a boat on Cumberland like fish, even little fish. They like the creeks and waterfalls that feed the lake. They'll see the darter's resurrection in five miles of clear, shallow headwaters as a happy, unintended consequence of the drawdown.

Some enterprising business person probably is working already on duskytail darter T-shirts and ball caps.

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