Southwest Missouri Congressman Billy Long investigating work on Taney County low-water crossing

Published: Jul. 9, 2020 at 11:50 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 9, 2020 at 4:43 PM CDT
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Southwest Missouri Congressman Billy Long is investigating why work done on a dangerous low-water crossing on Bull Creek in Taney County was not inspected sooner.

Kirk Farrell and his wife, Rita, floated in kayaks on Bull Creek June 9 when the force of the current below the low-water bridge flipped Rita’s kayak. When Kirk tried to help, it pulled them both underwater, ripped off Rita’s life jacket, and she drowned.

Farrell says he had been over the bridge in his kayak a couple of times before the tragic day last month and never found a good way to cross it.

“When Taney County Rescue showed up and I was sitting on the boat and they were working on Rita doing chest compressions and CPR, my neighbor Tom showed up,” said Farrell. “And the first thing I said was, There’s something wrong with that crossing. There’s something wrong with that crossing. I’ve never had a current do that to me, just hold you under and not let you out.”

We now know the low-water crossing, built just a few years ago, doesn’t meet the US Army Corps of Engineers standards. It’s at least a foot taller than the design the corps approved. But the corps didn’t inspect the bridge until June. It gave a permit for the crossing to landowner Steve Johnson in July 2016, but says it isn’t required to inspect every small project, like low-water crossings.

After hearing the lack of oversight, Rep. Billy Long is looking into the issue and the corps’ permit and inspection process. “That just sounded very strange to me, so that’s why I got involved,” Long says.

Representative Long visited the bridge himself with landowner Steve Johnson. “I think it’s a misnomer to call it a low water bridge.  It is a big structure, and I was really really surprised at the massive size of it,” Long says.

The corps says Johson failed to turn in a certificate of compliance once the project was complete, which says “your permitted activity is subject to a compliance inspection.”

Farrell says, “That says, “it is subject to.” That means they’re going to inspect it.” 

Long believes a change in federal law could ensure every low water bridge is inspected.  But Farrell believes the rules already in place were ignored.

Kirk 19:50 If they had followed the rules that they have on here, that bridge would have been torn out three years ago.

The US Army Corps of Engineers sent Johnson a letter of non-compliance, giving him until next Wednesday, July 15th, to come up with a plan to fix the issue. He says he’s working with the Missouri Department of Conservation and the contractor who built the crossing, Tom Boyce Excavating.

Meanwhile, Loring Bullard of the Ozark Society, got permission to put a sign 500 feet upstream from the crossing to warn floaters about the danger.

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