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Dean issues call for legislation in aftermath of Hallsville Scouts' deaths

By Meredith Shamburger
Aug. 11, 2017 at 4 a.m.

Power lines cross Lake O' the Pines at Alley Creek, near the location where three Boy Scouts were electrocuted when the mast of their sailboat struck one of the lines Saturday.

State Rep. Jay Dean says he's talking with other area lawmakers about legislation in response to the recent electrocution deaths of three Scouts at Lake O' the Pines.

Dean said the fact that Saturday's accident was the second such deadly incident at the lake in which a boat hit power lines means a solution is needed.

"The fact that it's now happened twice - it shouldn't happen one time," he said Thursday. "But I think it definitely needs to be reviewed, and (we need to) get the parties involved together and try to come up with a plan to resolve this so this can't happen again."

Troop 620 Boy Scouts Will Brannon, 17, and Heath Faucheaux, 16, died Saturday afternoon when the topsail mast of the boat they were in with Scout Thomas Larry, 11, hit a power line at the lake while on the troop's monthly campout.

Thomas died Monday at LSU Health Shreveport medical center.

Longview lawyer G. Brockett Irwin was killed in 1982 when his sailboat hit a power line near Johnson Creek at Lake O' the Pines.

Federal and state standards require any electrical or communications line crossing a waterway where boats commonly operate to have a height clearance of 52 feet.

But that standard comes with a caveat: Existing power lines were grandfathered in. It's that exemption that has some people looking at whether additional regulations are needed.

"I personally want to ... have all public lakes checked out by third parties to see that the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers, electric companies and Parks and Wildlife personnel verify that no power line endangers the lives of those that take advantage of our public waterways," Irwin's brother, Tom Irwin, wrote in a Facebook post. "Perhaps assurances that all power lines are higher than 50 to 100 feet above the water and park areas."

The two accidents 35 years apart, although similar, were in different areas of the lake.

In fact, there are at least three places at Lake O' the Pines where power lines cross water where sailboats usually travel. The Corps of Engineers, which oversees the lake, said it does not have a list of such locations and neither does the Texas Public Utility Commission, which oversees regulations for electric, telecommunication and water and sewer utilities.

No statewide agency is responsible for that information or for checking height clearances on individual power lines, said Terry Hadley, director of communications for the PUC. It's a question for individual power companies or the local authority over that body of water.

And when it comes to state laws or regulations about height clearances, the only rule the PUC has in place states transmission or distribution lines must meet clearances as described by the National Electrical Safety Code Standard in place at the time of construction.

The height of the power line involved in Saturday's accident is unclear; the East Texas Area Council of Boy Scouts said the boat involved had a mast about 26.5 feet tall. Irwin noted Upshur County Rural Electric Cooperative raised the lines after the death of brother.

Co-op General Manager Rob Walker said Thursday the company would not comment about the height of the power lines involved in Saturday's accident.

"We are cooperating with the investigation and continue to assist in the process going forward," he said.

A Texas Parks & Wildlife report on Saturday's accident had not been released as of Thursday.

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