Gillespie Boater Safety Bill Increases Penalty for Failure to Mark Presence of Low Head Dams
HARRISBURG – Despite the presence of a more than 20-year-old law that requires proper signage on adjacent shores, Pennsylvania leads the nation in deaths associated with low-head dams. This fact serves as the backdrop for legislation authored by House Game and Fisheries Committee Majority Chairman Keith Gillespie (R-York) that would increase penalties for any entity that fails to adequately mark what are also known as “run-of-the-river” dams.

“One accident of this nature is too many, and the prevalence in Pennsylvania of fatalities and water rescues associated with low head dams needs to be addressed,” Gillespie said. “While some of these accidents are the result of risk-taking and lack of good judgement, 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.”

Over the years, low-head dams have been built for reasons such as water quality improvement, reservoir creation and cooling water for power plant usage. The recirculating current at the bottom part of the dam poses a threat to paddlers, tubers, swimmers, boaters and would-be rescuers. The Dam Act of 1998 requires warning signs to be placed on shores near the dam.

“The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) is responsible for ensuring low-head dams are properly marked both upstream and downstream with signage and buoys, but the dams themselves may be owned and/or operated by municipalities or individuals,” added Gillespie. “Under House Bill 1003, the owners themselves would be cited for failure to mark the dams.”

Gillespie’s legislation would make violators subject to criminal, rather than civil, penalties for failing to mark or maintain markings for a low-head dam. House Bill 1003 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.”

Questions about this or any legislative issue should be directed to Gillespie’s office at 717-840-4711.

Representative Keith Gillespie
47th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Scott Little