Corps urges caution

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 1, 2004

DEMOPOLIS – Curbing injuries and deaths is the key focus for the Corps of Engineers this Labor Day weekend.

The Corps is anticipating large crowds to take to the river over the weekend and water safety coordinator Ranger Brandon Smith said safety is the organization’s top concern.

“Labor Day is the second busiest time on the river next to the Fourth of July,” Smith said. “We’re trying to encourage the use of life jackets and asking boaters to pay attention to the rules of the river.”

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This year, there have been 18 fatalities on Corps-controlled waterways in the Mobile District, which includes Black Warrior River and Tombigbee River lakes Bankhead, Holt, Warrior, Demopolis and Coffeeville.

Smith said that in the Demopolis Site Office’s jurisdiction there had been no fatalities and only two serious accidents in recent history.

“There used to be 12 to 15 drownings a year on Demopolis Lake, but it has gotten a lot better,” he said.

He hopes to keep that trend this weekend.

New signs at the office’s 23 boat ramps educate boaters on the rules of the river – the meaning of buoys and markers.

“They tell you the basic things you need to know on the river,” he said, “and always people need to be aware of the dam,” Smith said.

“We even have a program that in some cases we can loan life jackets to boaters who do not have enough on board and they turn them in at the end of the day,” said Smith, who is in his first year as water safety coordinator for the office.

The Corps rangers will be out in force patrolling the river, as will Marion Police.

Smith said typically people don’t think of the Corps as law enforcement.

“We do a lot more with the conservation and land management, but we also perform safety checks,” he said.

“Our main concern is that there are enough life jackets available on boats and we encourage people to wear them,” he said.

The Corps can – and does – issue citations and warnings on the river and can require boaters to leave the river, Smith said.

The Corps also reported its Class A campgrounds – those with water and sewer available – were at capacity.