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Smoke and mirrors

1/23/2009

I've been hearing President Obama talk over the past few months about how he wants to implement a new policy of "accountability and transparency" in our government from top to bottom.

Mr. Obama, I have a fine starting point for you. If you need to make an example out of a branch of this massive bureaucracy that has become the "government" of these United States, you can start with a paring knife — or better yet, a meat cleaver — to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

For those of you who have been holed up in the man cave for the winter, you need some background on how the Corps has effectively blindsided us, the anglers, on several of our lakes in its Little Rock district, which covers parts of Arkansas and southern Missouri.

Check out what Chris Horton, BASS' Conservation Director, has penned on the subject here.

I've known Chris on a personal and professional level for many years and I have no reason to doubt a word of his account of the way the Corps has betrayed and manipulated this public issue to benefit a small group of private individuals.

When I heard there would be a meeting between the Corps and anyone interested in the regulations on where a person can or cannot fish, I was understandably intrigued.

In the original agreement that Horton, Arkansas BASS Federation president Bobby Davenport, the Missouri Water Patrol, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and countless others worked out with the Corps and dock owners, anglers would have been prohibited from fishing within 50 feet of a "commercial zone," defined as a gas dock, marina store or restaurant.

I would say that's a common courtesy to the marina owners and patrons and had no problem with that policy.

Evidently that wasn't good enough for someone, somewhere who had a whole load of pull with someone, somewhere deep in the bowels of the Corps, as the newly composed regulation was soon rewritten — without public input — to include all the docks that are owned by the marina.

If you've been to Table Rock, Norfork, or Bull Shoals, you know that in some marinas, there are hundreds upon hundreds of rental slips that will now be off limits within 50 feet to fishing. In some coves, that would effectively place large portions of the cove "out of bounds."

At the rate they are building and dropping docks in these lakes (have you ever seen them take a dock out of the lake without replacing it?) within a few years there will be coves full of docks. Don't believe me? Ask someone who has lived on Table Rock or Norfork for 20 years how many docks were there 10 or even five years ago? There will never be any fewer docks.

Understanding that marinas make up a small percentage of the total dock population on any of these lakes, I wonder how long it will be before the property owner associations around the lake get the idea that they need to pressure the Corps to label their docks as "commercial zones," thereby putting all private docks off limits to fishing? Is that such a stretch? I don't think so.

Does the United States Army Corps of Engineers really have any use for public input? Dude, this is the A-R-M-Y. The United States Army. Love me some Army. Have a brother recently retired from the 1st Cav after 20 years and a tour in Iraq. Understand the Army.

The chain of command doesn't work from the bottom (in this case, the general public — you and me, the anglers); the chain works from the top down. We've seen a classic example of this chain of command with the implementation of this new regulation and how it is being forced down our throats.

The Corps asked for our input, then implemented the new "orders" as it saw fit.

With all this in mind, I went to the "workshop" that was held this past week in Harrison, Ark., to see what was up. What up? A surprising number of anglers (50? Maybe 60?) who were not impressed with taking "orders."

What up was a small group of Corps who had devised a scenario whereby they could diffuse the mob — the old divide-and-conquer. Hey, it's the Army already — you think they don't have a book somewhere on their desk with some strategy in it?

Also in attendance were an even smaller group of marina owners/operators who didn't really see what the problem was. According to the owners, they regularly receive "orders" in the form of regulations from the Corps on how they will run their marinas.

The "workshop" was basically a series of tables set up around the perimeter of an otherwise empty meeting room. At each table were Corps personnel, very friendly I might add, who had maps, charts, regulation literature all displayed to show us where were out of bounds around the newly defined "commercial zones."

There was no open discussion on how this new policy was hatched outside public view. There was no open discussion on what we could do to get back to our original agreement. There was no organization and no one "in charge" of the meeting. A total diffusion of the situation. Divide and conquer.

In some respects, I wasted six hours of my life and a tank of gas to stand around in a room with a bunch of other anglers. I know better, though.

In the midst of that crowd of anglers were staff members of our Congressmen and Representatives. They saw a bunch of fishermen with faded caps and sunburned necks who were not happy with a branch of our government.

They heard from many of us on how we had been effectively deceived by our government. These, the people whose bosses hold the purse strings of the Corps. They have eyes and ears, while we have votes. It's an amazing system.

Again, I have no problem with the original agreement whereby there would be no fishing within a perimeter of the truly "commercial" facilities of a marina. I don't think anyone who fishes would have an issue with that as stated.

I do, however, take issue with the Corps expanding the definition of "commercial" to include whatever else it wanted to include. Will the entire creek arm of a lake be defined in the future as a "commercial zone?" Who's to stop that from happening if that's what the Corps decrees?

Mr. Obama, if you're reading, here's a fine place to begin your "accountability and transparency" policy, because I'm having a hard time seeing through the smoke and mirrors that this agency of our government has erected.

For more info on Kevin Short or to contact Kevin, check out his Web site at www.kfshort.com.