Pennsylvania bill hikes penalty for failing to mark low-head dams

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A Pennsylvania lawmaker is calling for increased penalties when owners fail to mark the presence of low-head dams.

State Rep. Keith Gillespie (R-York) said his legislation, House Bill 1003, would make violators subject to criminal rather than civil penalties for failing to mark or maintain markings.

The Dam Act of 1998 requires warning signs on shores near the dams, but Gillespie said Pennsylvania still leads the nation in deaths associated with low-head dams. The dams, also known as “run-of-the-river” dams, may not appear dangerous but have strong recirculating currents that pose a threat to boaters, swimmers, and rescuers.

“While some of these accidents are the result of risk-taking and lack of good judgment, we can and should do more to make anyone near these dams better aware of the potential dangers and further penalize entities that are responsible for these structures but choose to act irresponsibly,” Gillespie said in a statement.

The bill would also clarify the definition of “run-of-the-river dams.” 

“By current definition, Pennsylvania has slightly more than 250 low-head dams,” Gillespie said. “At the same time, there are approximately 3,000 structures that mimic the characteristics but are not classified as such. My bill updates the definition and requires these dams to be marked appropriately as the safety hazards that they are.”

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