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Reelfoot Lake Spillway Controversy

Another year will come and go with no money appropriated for a new Spill way at Reelfoot Lake. Federal funding for the Reelfoot Lake project that included money for a new Spillway failed to make it out of committee in Congress last week. Concerns over possible water level fluxuations at Reelfoot once a new Spillway is built have proved to be a point of contention, especially with Kentucky farming interest near the northern end of the lake. They fear a rise in the lake level-which they say the new Spillway would make possible-could be catastrophic for their farms. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell has sided with the farmers and is on the House-Senate conference committee.(as reported in the Lake County Banner November 7,2001)

Kentucky and Tennessee lawmakers said Thursday they made progress during a closed-door meeting to discuss a dispute over Reelfoot Lake. "We feel that this discussion today is going to form a basis for working out a resolution," Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) said. 

The Tennesseans say the lake bordering the two states needs a new spillway, which is a structure that controls the lake's water level. The existing one is cracking, and the Army Corps of Engineers predict it will fail. Replacing it will cost an estimated $30 million. But the Kentucky lawmakers have blocked the construction of a new spillway because farmers on their side way they are worried the spillway will cause flooding on their land. The farmers say that could happen because the new structure will have the capacity to raise the lake's water level above its current summer average.

"Our interest is in protecting the landowners on the Kentucky side," said Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican who represents the western Kentucky district where the farmers live. But Whitfield and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) conceded an agreement must be reached. McConnell said those "on the Kentucky side have no desire to see the lake drain and go away." Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said lawmakers feel people should be compensated if "there is and harm" caused by the spillway. The Corps does not believe the government will have to compensate people for damage, said Col. Jack Scherer, a Corps engineer based in Memphis. (as reported in The Commercial Appeal November 9,2001)