Land Between the Lakes’ acting Supervisor Timothy Pohlman has denied that funds for recreation and heritage will be cut to nothing next fiscal year.
LBL “is working with partners and local officials to provide transparency regarding the FY 21 budget,” Pohlman said in response to questions from news media. “In our efforts to be transparent, information was mistakenly sent from LBL to local county officials containing incomplete information. Any information projecting budgets for future years is not accurate.” No budgets for FY 22 have been proposed, he said.
Even so, funds this fiscal year for those programs decreased to $77,961 from $1.8 million in fiscal 2020.
“I have been asked to forward additional requests for information about the LBL budget to our Regional Office,” Pohlman said in an email to this reporter. “I will forward your request this evening and work with them to get a response to your questions. I apologize for the delay.”
At press time no further information had been received from the Regional Office.
Reports that the U.S. Forest Service, LBL’s managing agency, would zero out funding for recreation and heritage programs resulted from a meeting last week. Pohlman and other LBL staff had shared budgeting information with Judge-Executives Wade White and Hollis Alexander of Lyon and Trigg counties, respectively, and Stewart County, Tennessee, Mayor Robin Brandon. After receiving budget documents, White shared them with news outlets. Later, he learned of Pohlman’s denial.
The U.S. Forest Service assumed management of LBL from the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1999 after the LBL Protection Act became law in 1998. The budget documents showing no dollars for recreation and heritage in FY 22 became public after they were emailed to White at his request.
The three county executives were mystified by Pohlman’s denial. “The Region 8 Forest Service called a meeting with the judge-executives of Lyon and Trigg and the Mayor of Stewart County to share a proposed budget that suddenly doesn’t exist?” White questioned after reading the supervisor’s denial. “If you’ll buy that, I’ve got some ocean-front property in Arizona, and from my front porch you can see the sea. Folks, there is more to come, please stay tuned and engaged.”
Brandon said the FY 22 budget line he saw for heritage and recreation was left blank. “It doesn’t have anything there, and we were led to believe that it was going to zero,” he said. “We’ve got their own spreadsheets.” Pohlman is “not exactly telling a story because that line item is actually blank. … It doesn’t say zero; it doesn’t say anything, so he’s technically correct.”
Brandon added that going from $2.8 million 10 years ago to $77,000 has cut more than $2 million for the two programs, “so it’s bad enough as it is. … Pohlman “has a loophole there, but that’s not what we were led to believe.” An easy way to resolve the issue is “to put the money back,” the Stewart County mayor said.
He suggested asking the four senators from Kentucky and Tennessee and U.S. Reps. Mark Green and James Comer to form a coalition to push for adequate funding of LBL. He said Tennessee Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty and Kentucky Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul plus the representatives could “make something happen here.” He has already contacted his representative.
Alexander also expressed concern with Pohlman’s statement. “It’s awfully suspicious that we were presented with budgets and numbers and charts and graphs showing a zero dollar or a blank document for 2022 in the recreation and in the heritage side of things,” he said. “We were presented actual lists of things that would be shut down — would be cut out or have to be cut back. They (LBL staff) showed the exact dollar savings, and that would still leave a certain dollar shortfall.”
The cuts would accumulate to only $1 million leaving a short all of $1.5 million the documents projected. “It’s very odd to me that those documents were incomplete, or he says they were not presented to us because they were.
“From day one, when I became judge-executive there’s always been a little bit of misinformation to the local officials, to the heritage people, and all the people who genuinely care about Land Between the Lakes,” Alexander said. “… I’m not saying there is dishonesty there, but the figures have not always been 100% transparent. This denial of these figures is just further proof of that. It’s alarming to me that we — Judge White, Mayor Brandon and I — have tried to nurture a good relationship with the people of the Forest Service. And it’s very alarming that the supervisor would come out with a letter saying that we saw incomplete numbers or that we didn’t see accurate data when they told us it was accurate data. ... I can’t help but believe that somewhere down deep there’s a hidden agenda that we haven’t got our finger on just yet.”
Two-thirds of the 170,000-acre LBL National Recreation Area lie in Lyon and Trigg counties in Kentucky with one-third in Stewart County, Tennessee. Much of the land was taken from its owners via eminent domain between 1963 and 1966. Some of their ancestors settled on the narrow peninsula between the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers seven generations ago.
Some LBL supporters believe cutting all money for recreation and heritage would violate the LBL Protection Act. David Nickell, president of Between the Rivers Inc. indicated that if recreation/heritage funds were zeroed out, it would violate not only the letter but also the spirit of the law. BTR was organized more than 25 years ago to locate, clean and maintain more than 200 cemeteries in LBL and to ensure the purposes for which LBL was created are continued. BTR also is a member of the Coalition for the Preservation of Land Between the Lakes, organized five years ago to oppose logging large tracts in the national recreation area.
Nickell reminded the public that outdoor recreation, heritage and environmental education programs were promised to the former residents. LBL was also expected to stimulate the economy in adjacent communities. Those programs were “used to justify the use of eminent domain by TVA to take our homeland. (TVA had the) authority of the 1933 TVA Act that gave them the power to take land by force for very specific purposes,” Nickell said. Those promised programs are also cited in the Protection Act.
“We will fight to protect this land, as we always have,” Nickell said. “The federal government took our homeland to ‘protect it.’ We are still fighting to protect it from the government, and always will. That land no longer belongs to us, but we will always belong to it. When our homeland was taken from us it was with the intention that it become a National Park. That is still an option, and we will pursue that if the Forest Service persists in its push to turn the LBL into just another tree farm.”
All three county executives were shocked when they learned about the Forest Service’s proposed cuts. After the Forest Service invited White to the meeting with LBL management, he suspected cuts might be in the future and alerted U.S. Rep. James Comer’s staff and asked Comer’s aides to inquire about the issue. White said Comer’s staff made “a lot of calls,” and what they were told, “didn’t match up with this” (the budget grids). White also talked with Comer after he received a copy of Pohlman’s statement. The county executives have also contacted McConnell’s staff for assistance. There will likely be a future meeting about the issue between the county executives and the federal legislators, possibly in Washington D.C.
McConnell and former U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield were the major force behind passage of the LBL Protection Act in 1998.