Harrisburg adding warning signs along fatal dam, boaters question if that’s enough


A simple sign with a life-saving message. 

“It really should not be an issue now for anyone who is on that water to know that you need to stay away. You need to be careful. This is a danger,” said Joyce M. Davis, director of communications, city of Harrisburg. 

Two new signs were installed on the Front Street Riverwalk this week. It’s part of a push for more warnings along the powerful waters, but that warning came too late for 3-year-old Madelyn Binkley and her mother, Mary Bredbenner, who were killed in a boating accident on the dam in May.

Madelyn’s father, Cody Binkley, was charged with two counts of homicide by vehicle while operating a watercraft under the influence for their deaths. 

“We got a lot of comments from residents that people are concerned that, ‘are we doing enough?’ So, we took another look at it — our public works people took another look at it — and said, ‘well, sure. Let’s put up additional signs,” Davis said. 

For Steve Oliphant, who has spent decades on the Susquehanna, the signs are a start, but not a solution. 

“At the bottom of this water park is a killer dam. There’s an element of death. It’s taking the lives of several dozen people,” said Oliphant, who is the owner of Susquehanna Outfitters. 

He said the only real way to prevent death is to replace the current dam and bust up its strong recirculating hydraulics that pull boats in like a magnet. 

“If you have a swimming pool in your back yard, it’s an attractive nuisance, and you have to put a fence around it. You have to prevent from the possibility of putting people in danger. You can’t put a sign up that says, ‘DANGER: Swimming pool ahead,” Oliphant said. 

Oliphant recognizes that the city is drowning in red ink and dam replacement would likely require state and federal funds, but he insists a sign itself won’t stop tragedy. 

“I can’t think of another water park in Harrisburg that could have one death — much less dozens of deaths — that wouldn’t be forced legally to take corrective action to make sure something like this never happens again,” he said. 

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