Patoka River signs to warn of dangerous current


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JASPER — Jasper canoers and kayakers will soon notice warnings near a potentially life-threatening low head dam on the Patoka River.

In an effort to protect public safety, the Jasper Common Council approved an ordinance Wednesday night that will facilitate the placement of “no trespassing” signs around the dropoff that sits underneath the Third Avenue bridge.

“Hazardous recirculating currents below dams have trapped and drowned victims,” the signs, which will go up in the next four to six weeks, read. Those who are found in violation of the ordinance will be subject to fines of varying amounts, depending on their number of offenses.

“We recognize the growth of the popularity of that area,” said Cale Knies, the City of Jasper’s director of personnel, safety and loss control. “With the growth of the hotel, cultural center, River Centre, visitors walking there, and also just a lot more people going downtown, [that] is the concern there.”

According to the Indianapolis Star, low-head dams have been described as “drowning machines” by safety experts. They create a circular current that keeps victims trapped under the surface until the turbulent waters spit them out.

Knies said that experts agree: Low head dams are an unbelievable danger. Signage, especially what Jasper has planned, “would be a great way to warn people of the dangers of the dam,” Knies explained in an email.

Photo provided

Jasper officials plan to post one warning sign on the west side of the bridge at the dam; another on the east side of the bridge near the access point; and a third up the river about 400 feet, stating that watergoers need to exit to the right at the access point. A fourth sign will also be posted at the bottom of the Beaver Lake Dam spillway.

Bliss McKnight, the city’s liability insurance carrier, recently shared information with Knies regarding a tragic low-head dam accident in Edinburgh that resulted in multiple deaths. Many more cases have ended in drowning and injury over the past few decades.

The City of Wabash recently removed its dam, Knies wrote in an email, but the Patoka dam is vital to Jasper because it holds back water to supply to the city’s water plant.
Knies’ safety initiative is a precautionary one.

“We’re just doing it to make sure people are aware of the issue getting up to that dam,” Knies explained. “And we have the two access points, and that’s kind of why the [Indiana Department of Natural Resources] has those there. So people can get out, go around [the dam], and get back in.”

He continued: “What we’re doing is just bringing a little bit more attention to our concern for others’ safety while on the river.”

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