U.S. Sen. Rand Paul promised help to Land Between the Lakes users in holding managers to the purposes for which LBL was created.
The Republican senator promised his support following an hour-long discussion June 1 in Cadiz hosted by Trigg Judge-Executive Hollis Alexander. Alexander called the meeting to discuss with the senator how the U.S. Forest Service “manages or mismanages” LBL.
The meeting attracted a standing room only crowd of LBL Coalition members, former residents and county leaders from Trigg, Lyon, Calloway and Marshall counties in Kentucky and Mayor Robin Brandon of Stewart County, Tennessee. Trigg, Lyon and Stewart counties each comprise a third of LBL.
Paul asked the county leaders to put their budget numbers into a concise narrative with three or more things that are incorrect historically or need revision.
“If you can get that into a tight synopsis … we’ll push that to everybody (in regional and local management),” Paul said. “With the forest service we might not get anywhere, but we can push that to (U.S. Sens.) Richard Shelby and (Patrick) Leahy in appropriations and also to the Biden Administration. I think the main thing is taking the (data) you have, and getting it into a readable form with specific (requests) as a conclusion. If you’ll do that, we’ll try to help by getting it to as many people as possible.”
The meeting resulted from a discussion with the forest service in May regarding proposed spending cuts in LBL. The forest service had called a special meeting with the county officials to present its budget. At the May meeting, Lyon County Judge-Executive Wade White asked for and received budget figures for 2022. That document indicated no money was allocated for the heritage and recreation programs in fiscal year 2022.
However, word of heritage and recreation programs being zeroed out prompted a public outcry. The forest service immediately denied heritage and recreation programs would be cut and said the document was released by mistake.
Alexander explained the issues the coalition has with the forest service’s management policy. And Donnie Holland, former Kentucky Commissioner of Parks and a former resident of the region between the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers, outlined the history of how LBL was created by the Tennessee Valley Authority 60 years ago. Holland also briefly recapped TVA’s mistreatment of residents who refused to sell and had their property taken by eminent domain. TVA managed LBL until 1999 when management was transferred to the forest service.
Terry Hamby analyzed the budget figures in detail from the Region 8 level down to LBL’s share. And before the discussion concluded, Brandon mentioned that Tennessee 7th District Rep. Mark Green told a Stewart County civic club that an investigation was underway regarding how the forest service spends its money.
Paul suggested a citizens board with authority to oversee and ensure the managing agency’s policy complies with the provisions of the LBL Protection Act instead of allowing the agency free rein. The Protection Act was enacted in 1998 after the public became dissatisfied with TVA’s gradual commercialization. When the 173,000 acres were taken to create LBL, TVA said there would be no commercialization and the agency would promote economic development in the communities surrounding the national recreation area.
Della Oliver of Eddyville, a former “between the rivers” resident, told Paul the forest service already has an advisory board but it has no teeth.
“Let me tell you, we haven’t met in three years because they (the forest service) didn’t get the paperwork done in time,” she said. Oliver is a member of the LBL Board. “They sent the paperwork up (to Washington) and it has laid on the president’s desk. Then we’ve had another president come in. I think it’s been signed now, but we still haven’t had a meeting.”
She also said the LBL Advisory Board has no authority.
“We were not even allowed to talk about things that were discussed in the meeting at lunch,” she said. “And there was nothing discussed in the meeting that was worth anything. That’s how silly it was, and we went through years of that. Then we finally began to get a little bit of wiggle room, but then they stopped having the meetings.”
Alexander said the forest service also tried to control who the county judges appointed to the advisory board.
“They said we couldn’t appoint somebody who had served in the past,” Alexander said. “Donnie is an example, they didn’t want me to reappoint Donnie.”