So, a rousing round of applause for the U.S. Congress for passing a bill that enhances personal freedom, for a change, rather than usurping it.
We’re talking about the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013, specifically the part of it labeled the Freedom to Fish Act, which will make permanent the past summer’s two-year override of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers attempt to micromanage use of the waters above and below dams on the Cumberland River, including nearby Lake Barkley.
Targeted by the misguided action by the Corps’ Nashville District commander, Lt. Col. James DeLapp, were the legions of fishermen who utilize those waters.
In December, DeLapp announced the plan to exclude boaters from waters immediately above and below the dams. The Corps of Engineers stated that it was merely acting to enforce a Corps regulation that went into effect in 1996 regarding use of those waters, so no due process to obtain public approval was necessary.
DeLapp did, however, condescend to holding four public meetings, at which citizens were told what the Corps was going to do, regardless of their opinions about it.
The Nashville commander’s interpretation of ER 1130-2-520 differed dramatically from others’ understanding of the language, which alludes to restrictions during times of specific high-flow conditions and not routine levels of water.
The Freedom to Fish Act passed in June provided a two-year injunction against DeLapp’s plans, and the passage late last month of the more sweeping act governing water resources makes that prohibition permanent.
DeLapp’s rationale does not pass muster. According to the Corps’ own statistics, there have been 14 drowning deaths in the head- and tailwaters of the 10 dams on the Cumberland River since 1970. Of those 14, nine involving boaters and five others involved individuals fishing from the bank. Bank fishing would not have been affected by DeLapp’s proposed action.
Not only that, DeLapp’s plan to place buoys delineating the prohibited waters came with a price tag of $2.6 million.
The Corps also expressed concern about liability and potential judgments against it stemming from a drowning death. We will acknowledge our own concern about frivolous awards of outrageous sums in certain high-profile cases of litigation, but that’s a discussion for another day.
One drowning death is too many, regardless of where in any body of water it may occur. However, DeLapp’s proposed plan is an example of extremism in protecting citizens from themselves. Statistics do not support the notion that fishermen are reckless in their judgment about fishing above and below the dams, and DeLapp’s intent to stop them from fishing there constitutes overreach of his authority and exaggeration of his duties and responsibilities.
Accidents happen, and no amount of government regulation is going to prevent all of them.
Thanks to Congress for allowing us, in this one instance anyway, to make up our own minds and act accordingly.