Lawmakers question TDEC officials on Cummins Falls alert system

Posted at 6:42 PM, Jun 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-19 19:42:42-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Lawmakers are questioning the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation about an early warning system that was supposed to be installed at Cummins Falls.

Just last month, the gorge and trail flooded, prompting evacuations, but unfortunately not everyone made it out. It remained closed after 2-year-old Steven Pierce died.

The TDEC commission says the warning system wasn't installed back in 2017 because of a communications break down with Tennessee Tech.

Calls for a system were made after two people died and dozens were trapped by rising water. The Department of Environment and Conservation said it would implement an early warning system for the park.

But now, with the falls claiming one more life, the system is still not in place.

According to TDEC, the park had never experienced the conditions of Sunday, June 9, when a microburst of less than an inch fell in a nearby basin that caused water in the gorge to rise several feet within minutes.

As a result, the two-year-old boy was taken by the fast moving water and drowned.

Now, the park is closed until an early warning system is put in place.

TDEC Commissioner David Salyers says they were working with Tennessee Tech to build that warning system but communication broke down.

"In late 2018, it sort of fell apart. Nothing ever came of the warning system. So, I became aware that the warning system was not in place. We really ran pretty quickly to get the warning system back in place. We went into discussions with TTU and we're in the process with getting the warning system in place," said Salyers.

The falls will be closed until a warning system is operational.