Photo courtesy of Charlie Corbett Some Rough River Lake property owners may soon find relief from thousands of dollars in fees following this week's passage of a federal water infrastructure bill.

Photo courtesy of Charlie Corbett

Some Rough River Lake property owners may soon find relief from thousands of dollars in fees following this week's passage of a federal water infrastructure bill.

Rough River Lake property owners found to be encroaching on the federal government's flowage easement are one step closer to avoiding thousands of dollars in fees to become compliant.

The United States Senate this week passed the bipartisan America's Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 on a vote of 99 to 1, which, if signed into law by President Donald Trump, would waive any administrative fees required of Rough River Lake property owners found to be encroaching on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' flowage easement.

The Corps of Engineers, in January of 2017, drafted the controversial Rough River Lake Flowage Easement Encroachment Resolution Plan, which, in an effort to correct an error from the 1950s, would have cost some property owners thousands of dollars in fees.

Following 2011’s flooding, which saw the highest water levels in the lake’s 50-year history, the Corps of Engineers discovered that many structures built alongside the lake became either partially or wholly inundated by the rising water.

When the Rough River reservoir and dam were first proposed in the mid-1950s, the upper guidelines for government flowage easements (areas that the Corps is allowed to inundate for flood control purposes) were set at 534 feet above mean sea level; however, surveying methods at that time were not as accurate as they are today, so, in some cases, the lines could be found to actually be either above or below the 534 level.

Because of this, hundreds of buildings were found to be encroaching upon the Corps of Engineers' flowage easement, causing property owners to be faced with thousands of dollars in administrative, deed drafting, and surveying fees, as well as possible structural relocation, to become compliant as the lines were redrawn.

Kentucky Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul have, for the past two years, worked to implement legislation that would waive these fees for property owners, feeling that it would be unfair to charge them for a mistake the Corps of Engineers made decades ago.

Working with Corps of Engineers leadership and local leaders, federal legislators secured a measure in the America's Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 prohibiting the Corps from collecting fees from impacted Kentuckians.

The provision included in the legislation relating to Rough River Lake also requires the Corps of Engineers to reimburse all property owners who have already paid fees upon the property owners' request.

Rough River Business & Tourism President Charlie Corbett said the legislation is a great example of how government can work effectively with direct engagement from the voting citizens.

“When the Encroachment Resolution Plan was announced, it included an Administrative Fee for processing release requests that, in many cases, exceeded $2,000 per property owner,” Corbett said. “For our Rough River Lake area and the thousands of affected property owners, this created an adverse economic impact of several million dollars. After discussions with local residents, affected property owners, and local business owners, and the Rough River Lake Corps of Engineers staff, we began the process to eliminate the fees. Working directly with Rough River Lake Project Manager Diane Stratton and her staff, an alternate plan was developed which was then routed through the Corps of Engineers Chain of Command through the Louisville District, Great Lakes Command, and, finally, to the Assistant Secretary of the Army in Washington, D.C.”

Late last year, after three meetings and discussions at Rough River Lake, McConnell drafted legislation to be included as an amendment to the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attentively listened to our concerns, and, after several meetings with his staff, Congressman (Brett) Guthrie, Senator Paul, Congressman (Thomas) Massie, our local Corps of Engineers Project Manager Diane Stratton, Louisville District Commanding Officers Colonels Beck and Gant, and Breckinridge County Judge Executive Maurice Lucas, we have arrived at a successful outcome,” Corbett said.

“Families in the Rough River community can finally breathe a sigh of relief,” said McConnell in a statement. “The measure I secured will protect property owners from paying thousands of dollars in fees to fix decades-old surveying mistakes by the Army Corps of Engineers. This is a critical issue for Kentucky’s Rough River community, where the Army Corps’ errors threatened to stick local landowners with a steep bill. As Majority Leader, I was proud to lead the charge in crafting a commonsense solution to prevent this Kentucky community from paying a financial price for past government mistakes.”

"Fighting for Kentucky’s priorities in Congress is one of my most important duties, and one I take very seriously," Paul said in a statement released Wednesday. "It’s why I am incredibly proud to be one of the very few senators to have secured all of my Kentucky-related priorities for inclusion in this bill, and I am thrilled with its passage today. Today’s good news comes after years of work on behalf of the Rough River Lake, Lake Cumberland, and other affected communities, and it is truly great to see these efforts have yielded a positive result. I look forward to standing by my commitment to always put Kentucky first and continuing my steadfast defense of our land, our waterways, and you from government intrusion.”

At press time on Friday, the bill had not yet received the President's signature.