SOMERSET — A proposal by two members of Congress would reimburse marina owners on Lake Cumberland who have lost business because of a decision to lower the water level in the lake.
Republican U.S. Reps. Hal Rogers and Ed Whitfield, who represent counties around the giant lake, introduced the bill, H.R. 2821, on Thursday, according to a release from Rogers' office.
The bill, if passed, would suspend the marinas' annual lease payments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and have the federal government reimburse marina owners for lost business, the cost of moving to other locations and the interest they pay on loans they've taken out to get through a downturn in tourism.
The bill would have the government pay counties for their share of the lease payments that would be suspended.
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The chances of two Republicans getting the bill through a House and Senate controlled by Democrats is unclear, although Rogers, with more than 25 years' seniority, has been adept at getting money for his district.
The bill was welcome news for marina operators, who have been pushing for help.
"We're very grateful, and I hope that it does go through," said J.D. Hamilton, owner of Lee's Ford Marina Resort in Pulaski County and head of a marina operators group.
The Corps of Engineers has kept the lake level well below the usual summer tourist-season level since January 2007 to facilitate repairs on Wolf Creek Dam, which is leaking.
The lake remains one of the largest in the state, but perceptions about the lower level have hurt visitation. Higher gas prices last summer and the national recession also have hurt.
There are 11 commercial marinas on the lake.
Several have said their income dropped 30 percent or more after the lake drawdown. Marinas also faced significant expenses to move docks and utilities, and two marinas moved to new locations because they were left in shallow water.
"It's been an extreme hardship," Hamilton said.
Every marina has had different costs, but it appears the aid bill could mean a significant amount of money for the facilities.
Ed Slusser, owner of Cave Springs Marina in Russell County, said his move to a new location will ultimately cost about $3 million.
Slusser said Whitfield's office told him it would probably be this fall before the bill becomes law, if it does.
The Corps of Engineers would then have to set up a process to calculate marinas' business losses and costs.
Rogers said in a statement that the government has provided money to fix the dam, and the Corps is working hard on the project.
"However, insufficient relief has been made available to those who have tied their livelihoods to this lake and who, through no fault of their own, are enduring a government-induced hardship," Rogers said.