Raise Lake Cumberland's water levels; bureaucrats ignore that tourism, endangered fish coexist

March 24, 2014 

Lee's Ford Marina Resort on Lake Cumberland in Pulaski County.

  • This column was signed by state Sens. Chris Girdler and Sara Beth Gregory; Clinton County Judge-Executive Lyle K. Huff; Russell County Judge-Executive Gary D. Robertson; Burnside Mayor Ronald Jones; Pulaski County Judge-Executive Barty Bullock; Bobby Clue, executive director of Somerset-Puaski County Chamber of Commerce; and Rick Mercader, chairman of the Clinton County Chamber of Commerce.

  • At issue: Feb. 11 Herald-Leader editorial, "Rogers' reason vs. McConnell fuming; Endangered fish won't hurt Lake Cumberland

Since 1952, the Lake Cumberland regional economy has drawn as many visitors annually as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park. Consequently, it has become our region's Toyota plant, our main economic engine.

In the automobile industry, brand damage deters customers. Lake Cumberland and local tourism are no different.

Unfortunately, this economic engine's branding as a tourist destination has been severely damaged in recent years due to perceived inadequate water levels and the imminent risk of failure of the Wolf Creek Dam.

In fact, the dam's potential failure was prominently featured on the History Channel's Mega-Disasters — not exactly the kind of media attention that says "ideal vacation spot."

Stakeholders and state leaders have been trying to address this economic disaster created by low water levels since it began in 2007. Even though Kentucky leaders from both parties in Congress, state government and the five local governments contiguous to the lake have all weighed in to stop this economic disaster, all attempts have been largely ignored by the Obama administration.

Some of the approaches proposed real and meaningful solutions, especially Gov. Steve Beshear's Lake Cumberland Economic Security Plan.

However, nothing has gotten the administration's attention thus far, reaffirming the notion for folks that President Barack Obama's war on Eastern and rural Kentucky truly does exist.

As the Herald-Leader editorialized on Dec. 25, 2012; "The Corps of Engineers has formally committed to mitigating economic effects of the drawdown, yet has shown little concern — some would say, it's shown animosity — toward the businesses that are going under."

We completely agree, despite the entire state of Kentucky speaking with one bipartisan voice, the only relief has been the Corps' 2013 announcement that the dam had finally been fixed and that normal water levels would return in 2014 after seven long years.

Now, the mere confirmation by a final survey that fish (including the duskytail darter) do in fact swim downstream has triggered an enormous amount of red tape for the Army Corps and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and has delayed the return of normal water levels at Lake Cumberland — yet again plunging its people, their livelihoods and futures into uncertainty and turmoil.

However, Lake Cumberland's economy and the duskytail darter had previously thrived in peace and harmony since 1952. The darters' pristine habitat on the Big South Fork River begins at Blue Heron and runs upriver to Station Camp, Tenn.

The river's elevation at Blue Heron is 734 feet and the river bed is 723 feet, the normal summer pool for the lake. Therefore it is, and has always been, impossible for normal lake level operations to harm the darter. Nevertheless, the federal agencies say we can't normalize the water levels.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, using his stature as Senate minority leader, has done a brilliant job of exposing this absurdity and we fully support his actions, but the lesson to be drawn is much larger. It is about the devastating impacts large federal bureaucracies with unchecked power and insane amounts of red tape are having on our nation's economy.

"Every day," as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Obama in the first weeks of his presidency, "someone, somewhere, in the federal government is screwing up."

Federal government agencies have become too big to be responsive to the people. It's so pervasive that even when red tape absurdity is exposed by our elected officials on a national scale, these officials must continue to hound away publicly before agencies eventually listen and we see results. This cannot be how our government was intended to work — against the people.

The right solution to fix this dam problem is clear. Keep the federal government's written word to the people and the fish: they coexisted for 55 years before this disaster. Immediately cut the red tape, mitigate the darter issue, announce the return to normal water levels and mitigate the economic damage by committing to fully implement Beshear's plan.

The darter will continue to thrive. The people can begin thriving again by rebuilding the economy and putting people back to work.

This column was signed by state Sens Chris Girdler and Sara Beth Gregory; Clinton County Judge Executive Lyle K. Huff; Russell County Judge Executive Gary D. Robertson; Burnside Mayor Ronald Jones; Pulaski County Judge Executive Barty Bullock; Bobby Clue, executive director of Somerset-Puaski County Chamber of Commerce; and Rick Mercader, chairman of the Clinton County Chamber of Commerce.

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