In June 18 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Reporter
Late last week two members of Congress proposed a bill that would reimburse Lake Cumberland marina owners who have seen their business decline due to the lowering of the lake's water level for repair on leaking Wolf Creek Dam, a proposal that's been greeted with open arms by dock owners.
U.S. Reps. Hal Rogers and Ed Whitfield, both Republicans, introduced H.R. 2821 last Thursday, according to a media release from Rogers' office.
"It would be good if it passes," said James Flatt, manager at Alligator II Marina. "Our business has really suffered, we're down 50 percent, I'd say."
If the bill passes into law it would suspend lease payments for marina owners on Lake Cumberland until higher water levels are restored and reimburse the marinas for losses in revenue, costs of relocating on the lake and interest payments on loans undertaken as a result of the project.
The proposal also lays out a plan for the U.S. government to pay counties around the lake for their share of the lease payments that would be suspended, according to the release.
Flatt said he understands that the economy is hurting right now but he said he wanted to draw attention to the lake to reassure tourists that the lake does have water.
He said his business, and others, have even lost money trying to promote the lake, especially during the Lake Cumberland Grand Prix which occurred in May at a cost of $180,000, and says the proposal would help Alligator II tremendously.
"We've done nothing wrong," he said. "We haven't made any bad decisions, the Corps made the decisions for us."
It is unknown whether the bill, proposed by two Republicans, would pass a Democratic House and Senate but if it did, the Corps of Engineers would have to determine the marina's monetary losses and costs.
J.D. Hamilton, owner of Lee's Ford Marina Resort in Pulaski County and president of the Lake Cumberland Dock Association, said its his wish to see the bill pass into law.
"Everybody has been affected differently," he said. "Not only the marinas, but the counties as well."
He called the bill a "very necessary" step toward economic support he feels the Lake Cumberland area is owed.
"A lot of people have been affected and really put on hard times at no fault of their own," Hamilton said.
He said he doesn't feel enough attention has been paid to the issue more needs to be done as it has generated an economic crisis.
Hamilton said county governments are being treated unfairly and are having to raise taxes to compensate for a monetary loss from the marinas due to the work on the dam
"I don't think the counties should be left paying those bills," he said. Hamilton said he has looked at Corps studies that show visitation numbers can take 3-5 years after work completion before tourism numbers increase once again. That would put the year around 2018 before Lake Cumberland begins to see the tourism industry rise again, if the dam work is completed by 2012 and his numbers are correct.
"Scenic Lake Cumberland has been the hub of economic development in our area of southern Kentucky for years," Congressman Rogers said in his release. "Many marinas have had to incur tremendous expenses to accommodate the lower pool, such as relocation and investments in additional infrastructure, and these unanticipated expenses have significantly disrupted their cash flow."
Rogers said although he approves of the dam's rehabilitation work he believes 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."
Whitfield said the lake is a vibrant part of the Kentucky culture and a vital part of the local economies surrounding the lake.
"During tough financial times, we need to do all that we can to protect small businesses and help spur economic growth. This legislation will help safeguard the critical tourism industry in the Lake Cumberland region, ensuring a bright and prosperous future for the entire region," he said.
The Corps of Engineers has held the lake level at around 680 feet above sea level since January 2007 to accommodate repairs on the leaky dam. Historically, the lake's summer level is around 720-725 feet.
Ed Slusser, owner of Cave Springs Marina, had to move his dock downstream to a new location in Wolf Creek near Jabez after the lake lowering left the dock dry, a $3 million move. According to published reports, if the bill does become law it could be fall of this year before that happens.
While the lake is still one of the largest in the state, the perception that the lake is dry couples with high gas prices and the economic downturn, has hurt visitation the past couple of summers
District Commander Lt Col. Bernard Lindstrom said in a previous interview that the Corps has low water levels at dams in the western part of the country, but none of the marina operators there have seen their rent forgiven and the Corps has something of a fairness issue to consider.
"We're committed to doing everything we cant to assist local businesses," said Corps information officer Allison Jarrett." We believe we've done all we can do - but we're willing to come to the table."