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Editorial: All power lines at Lake O' the Pines must either be raised or removed

Aug. 9, 2017 at 11:02 p.m.
Updated Aug. 10, 2017 at 9:28 a.m.

Power lines cross Lake O' the Pines at Alley Creek on Monday near the location where three local Boy Scouts were electrocuted when the mast of their sailboat struck a power line Saturday.

Enough.

Frankly, it was enough 35 years ago, when a respected Longview lawyer was killed as the mast of his sailboat came into contact with a power line overhanging Lake O' the Pines.

And it certainly is enough now that three promising young men have been killed in a sickeningly similar incident last weekend at the reservoir north of Longview.

The East Texas community — indeed the nation — has been horrified by the accident that took the lives of three Boy Scouts participating in an organized campout at the reservoir, just as members of Hallsville's Troop 620 have done every summer for years.

This time, though, the mast of the catamaran manned by two Eagle Scouts who were teaching a younger troop member to sail made contact with a power line strung across Alley Creek on the reservoir's north shore, electrocuting the boys.

One of the older Scouts was found dead on the boat, another was found in the water nearby. Both were killed instantly. The younger Scout apparently was thrown from the craft by the force of the electrical shock. He was quickly rescued but died later at a Shreveport medical center.

What a needless tragedy. And what a shame the same condition that took the life in 1982 of lawyer G. Brockett Irwin has been allowed to remain all these years later to take three more innocent lives. Lost were Scouts Will Brannon, 17; Heath Faucheaux, 16; and Thomas Larry, 11.

Enough.

It is past time for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which built and operates the reservoir, to do what should have been done many years ago: Require all power lines over navigable water to be raised to a safe height or removed.

Under a 1997 regulation, electric power transmission lines and communication lines over reservoirs must have a minimum vertical clearance of 52 feet where sailboats are commonly operated. But that requirement only goes into effect if existing lines are being replaced or new ones built. That exemption must be removed.

According to officials, the catamaran the Scouts were sailing has a mast that stands about 26.5 feet tall. That means the power line over the area could have been about half the required distance above the water.

We understand the Upshur County Rural Electric Cooperative line the Scouts' mast contacted could have been exempted under the 1997 regulations but still, we say, enough. The co-op and all others that operate lines over the reservoir must now either raise them or remove them.

The corps says there are numerous locations where power lines cross Lake O' the Pines and members of the Longview Yacht Club are regularly warned of at least three to avoid. But pity the sailor who, without benefit of such warnings, ventures into one of those areas, never to return. Pity, too, the captain whose well-known route is made deadly in a rainy season by high water levels that push his mast into a power line it otherwise would have cleared.

Enough.

The corps and utilities must finally do the right thing and either see that all transmission lines are raised to a sufficiently safe height — or relocated from above navigable waters.

We must not allow another tragedy to occur because of low power lines at Lake O' the Pines. We have seen enough.

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