LBL upkeep crucial to economic future of region
by Kenny Imes, Kentucky Representative, District Five
Dec 18, 2013 | 221 221 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As a state representative for Calloway and Trigg Counties, one of my primary areas of focus has been the advancement of a strategy to re-invigorate our state park system in the western Kentucky lakes region, and to boost tourism that is so vital to the economy of this area. While that proposal is still being developed, in the course of this effort, it has become evident that the real driver of tourism in the lakes region is the Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area (LBL). It is the key and indispensable piece of any comprehensive strategy seeking to lift the fortunes of the surrounding state parks, as well as tourism related private enterprises.

For that reason, I have followed closely the Forest Service’s announcements indicating a change in the LBL maintenance program, and I have met with workforce representatives within the affected maintenance staff, some of whom have worked at LBL since the 1970’s. While I realize that tight federal agency budgets can be expected from the so-called sequester, reducing annual levels of maintenance for LBL’s road and trail system to one-third of current levels, and facility maintenance to one-fourth of current levels goes far beyond mere economizing. Yet, this is the basis for the new maintenance contract that LBL has just awarded to an out-of-state firm. These reductions also go far beyond anything that the Forest Service has mentioned in public input and listening sessions over the last two years.

Currently, there is great frustration at the lack of maintenance of the secondary and gravel roads at LBL voiced by former residents who were removed from the area in the 1960s, and who wish to visit old home sites, former communities, visit cemeteries where relatives were laid to rest, or hold burial services for new interments. And that is the situation that exists before moving forward with a road maintenance contract only one-third the amount of the prior contract. I am very concerned as to what the conditions of the campgrounds and educational facilities will be in the near future. People will simply not visit an attraction of whatever sort that is neglected or in a visible state of decline. If we are to enhance our tourism economy in this area, the federal overseers of our Land Between The Lakes (and it does belong to the people), must be a part of the solution, and not add to the problem.

Budget conditions are of limited duration. I am perhaps more concerned with the apparent plan to close the central maintenance facility at Golden Pond. I say this is the apparent plan only due to the Forest’s Service’s own contradictory statements in the media on this particular point. While little known to the public, a substantial maintenance complex including a carpentry shop, electrical shop, welding and paint areas supports LBL’s infrastructure, and provides a secure area for necessary heavy equipment. In response to an initial inquiry by the Cadiz Record, any closure of the complex was strongly denied. A month later, buried near the end of the Forest Service’s own media release, it appears that such a closure is in fact planned.

Trying to put aside any issues of being misled, I have concerns with this. The central maintenance complex, right in the middle of LBL’s 179,000 acres, is the most logical and efficient point from which to conduct maintenance operations to all other parts of LBL. I do not subscribe to the assertion that maintenance can be done more efficiently and cost effectively by strategically utilizing other offices and shops spread across LBL. Such offices and shops do not exist, certainly in no way comparable to the central maintenance shops. These other facilities are basically sheds, not shops, and to suggest they can substitute for the Golden Pond complex is to insult the intelligence of those who have knowledge of LBL.

Members of the workforce are concerned that a preliminary move to vacate the central maintenance complex will eventually lead to its being torn down as were the North and South maintenance shops shortly after the Forest Service took over LBL. A further concern is that this is an initial step toward doing away with LBL’s “in house” maintenance crew that is purposed exclusively with maintaining LBL. I strongly believe the central maintenance complex should remain open, and LBL’s support services should be based there. To do otherwise would not be effective, reduce costs, or provide what I believe to be an acceptable level of service to the public.

In closing, LBL was not entrusted to the Forest Service to oversee its decline and retreat from the commitments that were made to those families displaced by its creation. If the Forest Service continues to move in a direction opposite of its mandated purposes of spurring economic development in the surrounding areas, and continues to operate in an insular fashion ignoring legitimate regional concerns, then perhaps the Forest Service might need to join the Tennessee Valley Authority as a former managing agency of LBL.

I welcome your comments and concerns on any issues throughout the year impacting our Commonwealth. I can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181, or you can contact me via e-mail at kenny.imes@lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov.
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