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Dock safety bill moves to Senate floor, addresses safety issues for Lake area docks

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - There was no opposition to a bill that would attempt to improve the safety of Lake of the Ozarks area docks. 

Senate Bill 297 was hearing Thursday morning in a Senate committee meeting. The bill would require new docks, modified, and docks changing ownership to be inspected and meet new code standards. 

There are currently about 25,000 docks throughout the Lake of the Ozarks. Five fire agencies are responsible for inspecting the docks and making sure they are up to code. About 5,000 docks do not fall into any fire agency's jurisdiction, however, and are not required to be inspected. Further, the local fire ordinances only went into effect around 2006 so many docks were grandfathered in and did not have to be inspected by the local fire departments. 

"While we are making headway, we are not near to every dock being seen," Osage Beach Fire Protection District Chief Jeff Dorhauer said. 

According to Osage Beach Fire Marshal Ed Nicholson, it takes about an hour to inspect a dock, not including the time needed to fill out paperwork. Some larger docks can have multiple boat slips which cause the inspection to take longer. 

"We average between two and eight inspections a day," Nicolson said. Osage Beach has about 2,500 docks in its jurisdiction. 

The fire department will inspect a dock for free and if they find something that needs to be brought up to code, the homeowner is required to upgrade the item. If the homeowner uses an electrician for an inspection, however, the homeowner is not legally required to upgrade the issue. 

Nicholson said the fire department and local electricians have started meeting regularly to discuss issues and potential issues and determine the best approach. 

"We began annual meetings with the Lake-area electricians where we talk about different subjects, what we expect and what they expect from us, so we're all on the same playing field," Nicholson said.

The fire department and electricians work together to make sure things are being installed correctly to pass inspection. "We're all in here, this job, together to make the lake safe," Nicholson said.  

Since 2012, four people have died at Lake of the Ozarks from electric shock drowning. Two of those were 13-year-old Alexandra Anderson and her younger brother, 8-year-old Brayden. The two drowned after being shocked while swimming near their family's dock. 

Their mother spoke at Thursday's committee hearing. 

"The Lake of the Ozarks is the deadliest lake in this country relating to electrocutions," Angela Anderson said. "It has more electrocution-related deaths than any other state combined." 

SB 297 would cover those 5,000 or so docks that fall outside any fire agency's jurisdiction but it would still not require inspection of docks that were grandfathered in. 

"Unless there is an immediate danger to how those docks are wired, they are not included in this," Chief Dorhauer said. "We want to provide a level of safety without having a negative effect, which, if a law is too overreaching, could have." 

Fire agencies sometimes find it difficult to ensure residents are getting updated code and inspection information because many are not full-time residents. But the fire department suggests a minimum of an annual dock inspection and at least monthly ground fault interrupter, or GFI, testing. 

"The dock is sitting down on something that moves," Marshal Nicholson said. "So that wave action moves that dock all the time, which means it moves that system and that conduit may not stay together. GFIs wear out. They do go bad so they need to be inspected and checked."

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