Cummins Falls: Lawmakers want warning system after toddler’s death

Falls closed until further notice
Posted at 1:35 PM, Jun 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-12 23:22:03-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Four Tennessee lawmakers want a warning system to be installed at Cummins Falls State Park after a 2-year-old boy died this week.

State Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), State Representative Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), State Representative Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville), and State Representative John Mark Windle (D-Livingston) sent a letter to the Department of Environment and Conservation, calling for the system to be immediately installed.

The warning system has been planned since 2017, according to a release.

Lawmakers released the following statement:

“In 2017, your department announced plans to install a warning system at Cummins Falls State Park to better monitor the gorge’s rising water levels,” the lawmakers wrote in a joint letter to Jim Bryson, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Environment and Conservation. “It is now June 2019, another life has been lost, and the warning system has still not been installed. After the last death, it was our understanding that a system would be implemented in an effort to prevent further deaths. Why has this warning system not been installed at Cummins Falls State Park?

It is past time to make installing a warning system a priority,” the lawmakers continued. “We ask for your immediate attention to this matter and prompt installation of a warning system before more lives are lost.”

Steven Pierce, of Eddyville, Kentucky, was swept away when a flash flood hit the area on Sunday. Water reached dangerous levels in just two minutes, according to park rangers.

National Weather Service officials said the criteria for sending alerts should be changed in order to keep park goers safe.

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation officials are conducting a comprehensive investigation to determine why the monitoring system has not been implemented. The falls and gorge area of the park will be closed until the investigation is complete.

In a letter to TDEC Commissioner David Salyers, Deputy Commissioner Jim Bryson outlined the following ongoing actions:

- The After Action Report will be completed to investigate and document park policies and actions before, during and after the incident. From this report, additional measure may be identified.
- Parks and Conservation GIS team has identified the watershed area for the region.
- We are currently talking to the National Weather Service to clarify watershed area that needs to be monitored continually and to agree on a new protocol for warning of potentially dangerous situations.
- Flash flood warning signs will be posted at trailheads leading to the gorge.
- An emergency procurement authorization has been secured to purchase and install a water flow monitoring system as an early warning system. It will be installed with all possible speed.
- Parks has funded a capital project for a Visitor Center which will have the facilities for conducting safety programs. We are looking to implement a permit requirement that will help us manage the visitation and ensure visitors have attended the safety program before going down into the gorge.
- The Visitors Center will be set up to have monitors for regular weather updates and the ability to receive notification from the flow meters that we are working with TTU to implement.
Jim Bryson, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Environment and Conservation

Trails at the park that do not lead to the gorge will remain open.

NewsChannel 5 Investigatesfirst raised questions about park safety four years ago when local officials voiced concern about the number of injuries they were seeing.

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