Drowning deaths of three kayakers in southwest Missouri getting attention on Capitol Hill

Regional News
Rep. Billy Long_1478613482966.jpg

(Missourinet)– A southwest Missouri congressman says three kayakers have drowned in the same location on Bull Creek in the past 15 months, prompting him to file legislation aimed at preventing future deaths.

U.S. Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield, says the deaths happened near Saddlebrooke, which is between Springfield and Branson. He says a landowner received a linear transportation nationwide permit (NWP) from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a low water crossing. Long says the contractor built a structure 18 feet wider and one foot taller, than approved by the Corps.

“So I went down there to look at it and honest to goodness, I thought that I was looking at a county bridge, where we were going to cross and get over to where this low water crossing was. It was a massive structure,” Long says.

He says the landowner has removed the structure, after the three deaths.

Long says high water in that area formed a dangerous vortex. He notes two kayakers died in the first incident.

“The second incident was a man and a wife, and the man could get over to the side and he actually had a hold of his wife, if you can imagine anything so traumatic,” says Long. “And he couldn’t hold her. It (the vortex) just sucked her out of his hand, he couldn’t hold her.”

Congressman Long’s legislation would require the Corps to conduct an in-depth study of the nationwide permitting process. It would also require the Corps to determine how much funding and personnel they need to inspect every structure like this, and to include public safety as a condition of compliance.

“When the water gets up high, it obviously forms some kind of a vortex down there and just sucks these kayaks down into it. And when three people in two different incidents died within a year of each other, I just thought something had to be done,” Long says.

Long tells Missourinet that his role as a congressman isn’t to point fingers, but rather to identify the problem and work to try to fix it. He also says his bill aims to ensure that these structures are built safely, without infringing upon property rights.

Long says the Army Corps of Engineers currently only has enough staff to visit ten to 20 percent of completed structures, adding that there is no requirement for the Corps to inspect completed projects after NWP’s are issued.

He says he hopes to get his provision included in the federal water resources bill, and says he’s working with U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, on it. Congressman Graves is the ranking Republican on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

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