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Entries in Army Corps of Engineers (29)


Anglers Paying More to Access Public Waters

Fishermen don't like paying fees to launch their boats, park their vehicles, and participate in tournaments at public facilities on public waters. Even more, they don't like that those fees are increasing in places where they've already been established and being added in locations that once were cost-free.

As  Harvey Craft has learned, however, mostly all anglers want to do is complain about it. For years the Tennessee man who calls Percy Priest his home water has been trying to get fishermen and clubs to speak out in protest at being charged fees to use facilities that were paid for with taxpayer dollars.

But they're "not interested in doing a letter-writing campaign or anything else," he said. "They're willing to either pay the money or go to a (another) public ramp and just take their chances of hopefully not being broken into. Mainly, they just complain to each other."

Media and politicians aren't especially interested either, he said, with the latter adding that there's little they can do about it.

Although Craft had noted costs going up on other waters, what finally stirred him to action was new ownership at Four Corners Boat Dock on Percy Priest, a Corps of Engineers impoundment, which started charging $5 to launch. Now, it's $8.

Additionally, he said, "We've watched 50 to 60 spaces for vehicles/trailers reduced to 13."

Over on Norris Lake, a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) reservoir, an angler on the East Tennessee Fishing Forum was complaining about a $20 launch fee at Stardust Marina nearly eight years ago.

 "Many of the marina operators are shunning local folks, especially fishermen," he said. "They say fishermen don't spend money and they really don't want us. Some of the marinas don't even allow public launch at all."

On Kerr Lake, also known as Buggs Island, the Corps charges non-profit fishing tournaments $25 for under 25 boats, $50 for 26-100 boats, and $75 for more than 100 "to cover costs incurred by the Corps." For-profit competitors must pay $75 regardless of the size of the event on this fishery that straddles the Virginia-North Carolina border. Additionally, each vehicle using a Corps launch ramp must pay $5 per vehicle per day.

"By this point, I assume it will take many folks writing or calling their elected officials in Washington to get this stopped," Craft said.

Sorry to say, I don't think even that will stop it. The sad reality is that the recreational facilities built on Corps- and TVA-managed land require maintenance. Faced with cutting down on their own operating costs to stay within budget or closing public access areas, these agencies have turned over management of marinas, and their associated launch ramps and parking spaces, to commercial operators. The latter are in business to make a profit, and they also have maintenance costs.

"The Corps has allowed marina operators to charge a launching fee since 1993, just as the Corps has authorization by public law to charge a launching fee at its launching ramps," said Corps spokesperson Carolyn Bauer.

"The ramps, roads, and parking at the marina were constructed at federal taxpayer expense. However, ongoing maintenance is the responsibility of the marina operator. The docks and other structures were constructed at the marina operator's expense."

For TVA, it's much the same. "Commercial marina and campground operators can choose to charge for the use of their ramps or include a fee for the ramp use in their camping/marina fees," said Jim Hopson, manager of public relations. "This helps reimburse the commercial marinas for the capital improvements they make."

In sympathizing with Craft, Michael Butler, CEO of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, pointed out that this arrangement is win-win for the agency and the vendors who operate the facilities, "but the public gets screwed."

He added, "Personally, I think this is something that is a deterrent to more use, especially by tourists and others that can bring money into the state and into rural communities to support our economy."

What, then, is the solution for Craft, who is willing to speak out, and the millions of other anglers, who aren't?

Possibly the Corps and TVA should cede management and/or ownership of public access areas to those states willing to accept them. Almost certainly they would be more interested than are federal agencies and commercial vendors in the happiness of their angling constituencies, as well as in keeping costs down to attract business and help local economies.

Realistically, though, even under state management of these areas, fishermen are going to have to pay to play on Corps and TVA impoundments. That's just the way it is.


Hunters Share Blame With Anglers for Spreading Hydrilla

Hydrilla photo from University of Florida

For years, anglers have been blamed for the illegal introduction of hydrilla, and much of that blame has been deserved.

Shortsighted fishermen certainly have spread the exotic plant, focusing only on its benefits as fish habitat and not the damage it does.

But others also are guilty of this practice, and, for years, they have done so without being held accountable.

“The issue of hunters moving hydrilla has not been on the radar much. Anglers have been getting all the blame,” said Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director. “

Finally, that’s changed, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has acknowledged that waterfowl hunters also are introducing the fast-growing, invasive plant.

During a stakeholder meeting for Kerr Reservoir (Buggs Island) last summer, Corps project manager Mike Womack specifically mentioned hunters, as well as anglers, as the culprits. Online research, he explained, revealed comments on hunting blogs about how hydrilla benefits waterfowl hunters.

“This view is shortsighted,” Womack said, adding that hydrilla crowds out native plants, diminishes oxygen levels, and can carry diseases that are deadly to waterfowl and predatory birds that might eat them, including eagles.

For years, Bill Frazier, North Carolina conservation director, has suspected hunter involvement, as he noted infestations showing up in places far removed from ramps, where anglers most often introduce it. More recently, duck hunters at Kerr, who didn’t know his identity, told him that they spread hydrilla into upstream locations. And he saw someone on a North Carolina hunting website ask about how to introduce the plant.

“At the annual meeting of weed managers for North Carolina, I confronted the state weed manager,” Frazier said. “His comment was ‘Now that you mentioned it, I wondered why I always found hydrilla around duck blinds.’”

Whether the offender is an angler or hunter, he can be arrested and prosecuted for spreading hydrilla in a Corps impoundment. Additionally, the agency offers a reward of up to $1,000 under its Corps Watch program for information about vandalism, larceny, arson, and environmental and cultural degradation.

“This includes the intentional spread of federally listed noxious weeds including hydrilla, unauthorized applications of pesticides, and unauthorized release of fish, including grass carp,” the Corps said. 

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)


Sediment Removed to Restore Habitat on Lower Missouri River

This past fall, work began to remove more than 130,000 cubic yards of sediment from two backwaters and access areas, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to rehabilitate the lower Missouri River.

“Backwaters are huge reproductive areas,” said Luke Wallace, a Corps biologist. “I’ve heard them described as the grocery for the river.”

Many of these prime feeding, spawning and winter refuge areas were lost in 2011, when the swollen river smothered them with tons of dirt and cut off side channels from the main river. That occurred mostly because a year’s worth of rain fell during the second half of May on the upper basin, adding to a melting snow pack that was 212 percent above average in the Rocky Mountains.

Since then, the Corps has spent between $14 and $16 million to restore 17 of these places between Sioux City and the Iowa-Missouri border. As work continues, another $3 million to $5 million likely will be spent.

Most all of the areas are popular for fishing and hunting.

 “I think in general, the importance of backwaters has been underemphasized,” said Dave Swanson, director of the Missouri River Institute. “They’re important as nurseries for fish, important for insects. They really need these areas to do what they do.”

In the latest effort, contractors are removing 45,000 cubic yards of sediment from a 9-acre site known as Hole-in-the-Rock, near Macy. Deeping that pool should benefit bass, as well as an additional 59 forage, game, and rough species.

They also are cleaning out 88,000 cubic yards from a side channel at Middle Decatur Bend. That will lower the entrance by two feet to once again allow water to enter the channel.

Scheduled to be completed in June, the two projects will cost an estimated $972,000.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)


Boating Safety Threatened at Lake Eufaula

One of the most popular bass fisheries in the Southeast soon might become one of its most hazardous.

That’s because proposed budget cuts for fiscal year 2015 could force removal of navigation markers on Lake Eufaula/Walter F. George, a 45,000-acre impoundment on the Chattahoochee River.

“Safety is the main issue,” said Jim Howard, Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation Conservation Director, who has been leading a campaign to alert anglers to this possibility. “Every angler I talk to cannot imagine the lake without buoys. As I see it, boat damage and boater injury will be common. Ultimately, boater death will occur.”

Without markers, the lake would be most dangerous at levels below 186 feet (above sea level), according to Troy Gibson, a tournament angler and lure designer for Southern Plastics.

“It would be especially that way for people who don’t live here and don’t know the lake,” he said. “They might run over sand or hit stumps or trees.”

Gibson has personal experience with such hazards. In 2011, his boat suffered $2,800 in damage when he motored outside the markers.

The average depth outside the channels is just 5 to 7 feet (at 188 feet), said the Eufaula regular, who added many use the buoys to position themselves for fishing, as well as navigation.

Removal of those markers could occur because no operational funding has been requested for the U.S. Coast guard unit at Eufaula, which is responsible for their maintenance and which has been at the impoundment since the 1960s. Chief Petty Officer Patrick Haughey confirmed that his unit is scheduled for closure as part of the proposed federal budget for 2015. He added that some of the markers have been “thinned,” but the main navigation channel remains marked (as of late November).

“The bottom line is that the Coast Guard does plan to pull out of Eufaula on approximately March 31,” said Andrew Ashley, a military legislative assistant for U.S. Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama.

That’s reputedly because of limited barge traffic on the river, as well as the need for those Coast Guard personnel elsewhere.

“Apparently, the drought of 2007 has significantly impacted water traffic,” Ashley said. “The Coast Guard reports that there was only one barge that traversed the waterways last year.

“The previous barge that traversed the waterway was four years ago. The mission of the Coast Guard is to facilitate commercial traffic --- not recreational.”

But what’s being overlooked, besides safety, is popularity of recreational fishing and boating on Eufaula and their importance to local economies.

“Impact on the city of Eufaula will be huge,”Howard said. “Once the word gets out that (Lake) Eufaula is not a safe place to boat, folks will write it off their list.

“I expect the city and surrounding communities will lose angler/boater expenditures in the millions of dollars.”

When/if the decision is announced to close the Guard Coast unit at Eufaula, a public comment period will afford citizens and businesses the opportunity to express their concerns, Ashley explained.

“The Coast Guard encourages the community to seek funding for navigational assistance from the state government or private sources,” he added. “The Coast Guard offered its expertise and assistance to future providers of navigational services in the region.”

Additionally, assistance for maintenance of the markers will be solicited from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said. 

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)


West Virginia Uses Hardwoods for Fish Habitat

 WVDNR photo

Fisheries managers suspect that hardwoods might provide better habitat in the state’s aging reservoirs than Christmas tree brushpiles, and now they are doing something about it.

“A lot of our reservoirs are habitat-limited,” said Nate Taylor, a fisheries biologist for the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (DNR). 

“Many of the impoundments were created in the 1960s and 1970s, and the flooded trees that attracted fish during the lakes’ early years have long since decomposed. The goal behind our program is to re-create some of that fish-attracting habitat.”

East Lynn Lake, a 1,000-acre reservoir managed by the Army Corps of Engineers in Wayne County is the test site.

“We marked 25 trees (near the water) and submitted them for (Corps) approval,” the biologist added. “They gave us the go-ahead on 17 of the 25. The main goals were to create habitat in areas where people were most likely to fish, and to avoid creating navigation hazards for boaters.”

The large trees with broad canopies then were felled into 10 to 20 feet of water, and secured to their trunks with steel cables to prevent them from floating away during high water. A sign at each site identifies the deadfall as a “WVDNR Fish Habitat Project.”

“We wanted people to know that each tree was part of an official government project,” Taylor said. “We had a trained forester felling these trees, employing all the proper safety equipment. We don’t want anyone else trying this and getting hurt or killed in the process.”

The widespread branches of hardwoods will provide cover over a much larger area than brushpiles, and they won’t decompose as quickly as the softer woods of Christmas trees.

Additionally, the latter can be difficult for anglers to locate, and collecting, transporting, and anchoring them is more expensive than simply cutting down shoreline hardwoods.

“As far as payout, hardwood trees are the way for us to go,” Taylor said.

If the hardwood habitat at East Lynn proves as successful as biologists believe it will, then DNR likely will expand the strategy to other Corps impoundments. 

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)