Senator McConnell's Accomplishments - Freedom to Fish Act

Problem:  

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nashville office announced in November 2012 its intention to spend some $2.6 million to install physical barricades below the Barkley and Wolf Creek Dams in Kentucky that would prohibit small boat access to these tailwaters, some of the most popular fishing areas in the state. Kentuckians, small businesses, local CJEs, and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife vehemently opposed the Army Corps’ barricade plan, which they believed would hurt tourism in the affected communities and rightly viewed as federal overreach. It is estimated that blocking fishing access to these areas would have reduced some $3 million in local tourism. 

Steps taken by Senator McConnell:  

 - On February 12, 2013, Senator McConnell wrote the head of the USACE, Jo-Ellen Darcy, voicing his opposition to the Obama administration’s barricade plan. 

- On February 28, 2013, Senator McConnell introduced the “Freedom to Fish Act” with Senators Alexander, Paul, and Corker that would prohibit the USACE from installing the barricades.

- On March 19, 2013, Senator McConnell met with the Nashville USACE Commander to reiterate his opposition to the plan and to relay that he would continue to work to prevent the USACE from installing the barricades.

- 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 USACE plan and was told that the proposal to block access to these waters would have a major 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 Senator McConnell to delay, for two-years, the USACE’s 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 Conference Report.

- On May 16, 2014, Senator McConnell was successful in securing his Freedom to Fish language in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) Conference Report, the final version of the bill.  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.

- On May 20, 2014, Senator McConnell’s Freedom to Fish, included in the WRRDA Conference Report, is passed by the House of Representatives.

- On May 22, 2014, Senator McConnell’s permanent Freedom to Fish provision was passed by the Senate.

- On June 10, 2014, the President signs Senator McConnell’s permanent Freedom to Fish provision into law.

Outcome:  

Senator McConnell joined his constituents in vigorously opposing the Army Corps’ plan to block anglers’ rights to access these waters and worked to successfully protect his constituents from another unnecessary, costly, and burdensome federal regulation from the Obama Administration.

As a result of Senator McConnell’s legislation—which he ushered through both chambers and into law—Kentuckians can continue to fish these prized waters and and an estimated $3 million in local tourism will no longer be held hostage by this administration’s federal overreach. 

Senator McConnell’s permanent “Freedom to Fish” provision was included in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) Conference Report, which passed the Senate and House in May 2014 and was signed into law on June 10, 2014.  The provision, which was secured by Senator McConnell continues a “permanent ban” on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) 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.

Acknowledgements: 

A number of local, state and national media outlets reported on Senator McConnell’s success in stopping the administration’s burdensome overregulation of Kentucky fishing.  

“McConnell's provision will permanently prevent the Army Corps from enforcing any attempt to restrict fishing access by giving states the ability to determine how best to regulate public access to these areas. The bill also prohibits the Army Corps from ever constructing physical barriers to these public areas or attempting to implement any kind of a restricted area using signs in the Cumberland River.” (“McConnell fishing provision heads to House,” Paducah Sun, 5/17/14)

“Lyon County Judge Executive Wade White praised McConnell's efforts.  "I'm so excited that it is this much closer to final passage, and I appreciate Sen. McConnell making this such a high priority," said White. (“McConnell fishing provision heads to House,” Paducah Sun, 5/17/14)

“Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the voices of the region's fishing enthusiasts and shop owners were heard. "I appreciate the president signing the legislation into law and reversing the administration's decision to place barriers and restrict fishing along the Cumberland River," said McConnell, who led the push for the legislation. "No one I know in Kentucky supported this plan." (“Obama signs bill to preserve dam tailwater fishing,” Associated Press, 6/3/13)

“Local officials said the restrictions would have hurt tourism, a key contributor to the region's economy.” (“Obama signs bill to preserve dam tailwater fishing,” Associated Press, 6/3/13)

“Lasher said the restrictions would have had a trickle-down effect on the region's economy, hurting motels, restaurants, bait and tackle shops and guide services. "It's without a doubt a prime example of elected officials listening to what's going on and understanding it and acting upon it," he said.” (“Obama signs bill to preserve dam tailwater fishing,” Associated Press, 6/3/13)

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