Editorial: No Wake and dam making waves; Rockford Marina closes

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112188237915358.jpg’, ”, ‘Members of the Rockford Fire Department’s dive team pull in a diver who was assisting ComEd clear debris from Fordam Dam Friday, July 19. Some critics of ComEd’s maintenance procedures want regular on-site supervision of the dam gates to check for critical conditions and because of malfunctions in January of automatic sensors that have resulted in the river dropping three to four feet. River businesses, boaters and residents are upset with Sheriff Richard Meyers and ComEd’s river and dam policies.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112188229610405.jpg’, ‘Photos by Frank Schier’, ‘Trees and other debris are regularly caught in front of the gates and on the spillway of Rockford’s Fordam Dam, as pictured above. Regular removal of debris and maintenance of the dam have many concerned. Particularly troublesome is the lack of notice to boaters and dock owners when the dam was opened July 13 to clear debris. The Rock River dropped at least a foot and a half.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112188252716897.jpg’, ”, ‘ComEd crews cut up a tree pulled off the Fordam Dam July 15. When asked if the dam would be opened as it was on July 13 and 14, he replied, “No, I guess we’re not going to do that today." Steve Lucas of Rock River Enterprises and Barge Company said Paul Callighan of ComEd told him that debris was still stuck in three gates of the dam and that is why the river was and is down at least a foot from July 13 to July 19. Lucas said, “It sure is strange that the debris is keeping each gate open exactly the same amount in each gate."’);

Everyone has been asking me to find out why the Sheriff’s Department did not start enforcing the extended No Wake Zone at Martin Park until the boating season of 2005 (the restricted area went into effect May 19, 2003, DNR 2030.20 Region 1-3). I asked Sheriff Richard Meyers to go “on the record” for the Web site. www.rrnowake.com

I asked: “Sheriff Meyers, why did your department not start enforcing the new no wake zone at Martin Park till this summer, 2005?”

Sheriff Meyers’ official statement: “No comment.” That statement was from a July 13 meeting with Sheriff Meyers. Sheriff Meyers also stated that his department will not make any suggestions to the DNR regarding a compromise to the problem at Martin Park.

This was the second meeting on this issue. The first meeting took place at Martin Park July 6 with Capt. Greg Hunter of the DNR, Sgt. Steve DePauw of the Winnebago County Sheriff’s office, Steve Lucas of Rock River Enterprises & Barge, and myself.

Capt. Hunter produced the required paperwork (DNR 2030) and stated the he found it in an old box that was probably left there from the person who had his position before he took over. Our legal counsel reviewed the paperwork and asked for copies. Capt. Hunter stated that copies of any papers would have to be acquired through the “Freedom of Information Act.” At the conclusion of the meeting, Capt. Hunter said we can work this out among ourselves after boating season.

The claim of the Martin Park boat ramp being “extremely dangerous” was put forth by Winnebago County Sheriff officers patrolling the river. They claim more boats and bigger boats produce a dangerous situation at the Martin Park dock. No factual data is available to substantiate the number of boats using the river, the size of boats using the river or the increase in boats using the river. According to the DNR and the Winnebago County Sheriff’s office, there has never been a reported accident at the Martin Park boat launch, which was built in 1956.

I have made a formal request that all buoys and signs placed on the Rock River by the Sheriff’s office be removed. I have also asked the Sheriff’s Department to stop enforcing the No Wake Zone until the DNR completes their review and issues a statement. The enforcement of the no wake zone is optional for the Sheriff’s Department. The only agency required to enforce this new No Wake Zone is the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. I am filing a complaint over the procedure used to activate the excessive No Wake Zone and we are following the necessary steps with the DNR to have it removed.

I have spoken to the Winnebago County Board and the Rockford City Council about this issue. Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey said his office has received a number of complaints about the excessive No Wake Zone, and he was concerned about the impact it was having on downtown Rockford businesses.

To add insult to injury for boaters, last week Commonwealth Edison decided they would perform maintenance on the dam. On the morning of July 13, they opened the dam and dropped the water level in the Rock River by more than a foot. Once the maintenance was complete, they claim the gates would not close properly.

Commonwealth Edison is required by the DNR to maintain a “Recreational Pool” water level of 2.94 as measured at the Auburn Street bridge. As I write this article, the water level at Auburn Street bridge is 2.04. Real Time water levels can be viewed on the Internet at www.rrnowake.com, click on the “Water Level” link.

Once again, the business prevention department is working every angle to keep boaters from enjoying the Rock River this summer.

Meyers & ComEd submarining the Rock

By Frank Schier

Editor & Publisher

Sheriff Dick Meyers is playing politics with the economy that floats on the Rock River, and boaters and businesses are paying the price. Tourism, boating and industry supported by the same are being torpedoed. Meyers’ fellow submariner is Paul Callighan of ComEd.

For years, I have heard the complaints about boat races, big boats and the noise they make from people on Indian Terrace, Franklin Place, National Avenue, and Country Club Terrace. At the same time, I have heard from other people on those exact streets that the boats are one of the reasons they like living on the river. The boats, races, and skiers are fun to watch, and many of those streets’ residents boat themselves.

Meyers said the current situation is a “no win” proposition for him. He said he has received calls supporting the new No Wake Zone. I suggest those calls carry quite a bit of clout, considering the wealth and political power that is represented by just a few of the residents on those streets.

On the surface, Meyers has touted “safety” and “extremely dangerous” boating conditions for keeping the river closed, the dam gates open or closed, and the new No Wake Zone. That’s a classic rhetorical device—use fear to sell an undeclared agenda. More than 500 people have signed petitions protesting Meyer’s new No Wake Zone.

Meyers and Callighan play Frick and Frack with who’s responsible and who controls the river level and dam operations. When in doubt, they pitch their troubles into the lap of the DNR.

The City of Rockford has to take control. The Sheriff and ComEd have failed to serve the public good. They are creating more hazards than safe conditions. They pushed the river economy underwater.

This real undertow washes one crony’s hand and then the other. The one hand holds up the agenda of the On Golden Ponders, as Steve Lucas of Rock River Enterprises and Barge Inc., calls the tranquility heavies set. The other hand purposely washes an unnecessarily huge jail and social service sector over the River District, driving down quality of life issues, dunking, if not attempting to drown, development, and pulling business profits out off the river and boaters out of these local waters.

Considering all the past damage and the future, the City of Rockford should considered eminent domain for the Fordam Dam.

Brian Huels, co-owner of Rockford Marina, told the sad tale t he best. He announced that as of the publication day of this paper, Wednesday, July 20, Rockford Marina’s boat sales, storage and maintenance operations are closed.

Listen to him.

Huels said in an exclusive interview on July 19: “The letters are going out today, and we will be closed tomorrow. They are going out to all of the customers who have done business with me for the last three years. Boat sales, storage and maintenance operations are closed. The gas pumps and 50 boat slips will remain open. The gas pumps are under the management of Dustin Koch, and the management of the boat slips will be determined.

“It’s just not the lifestyle that Megan and I want. I have six years of undergraduate and graduate education, and $25,000 a year for an 100-hour ‘light work week’ is not the way I want to live my life. It doesn’t give me the balance in my family life. Megan Koch and I are getting married next Wednesday, and my dad was at everything I did as a kid. Megan and I will have children some day, and I want to be there for them. With the way this business was going, I couldn’t.

“The first year was a bad economy, and last year the river was closed. This year is better, but the numbers still don’t make it. We closed the shore store this year because of last year’s business.

“If we still had the shore store, the No Wake Zone really would have affected it.

“I could see just from Megan’s house on Franklin Place that boat traffic is much less than last year.

“Last year, we chose to move off the river because of how bad it was. Last year, when the river was closed until July 4th, the shore store sold $8,000 just in gas. The year before, we sold $15,000 at $3 a gallon.

“That’s filling our supply tank once a year, last year. Comparable marinas on Fox Lake fill up their tank twice a week. That’s why they can sell their gas at $2.60 a gallon.

“It’s pretty frustrating. Last week, they tried to close the dam to get some trees out or something. Now, we

have clients who can’t get their boats off their boat lifts, the river is so low. Even Megan and I can’t get our boat off. So it’s still affecting our business, yes, definitely.

“It would be nice when they make decisions about the entire river population, if they’d consider just not the people who live on it but those that use it, too. The Fox River has been successful because people will trailer their boats to go to the Fox River.

“Rockford boaters go to Lake Geneva, Fox Lake, Castle Rock and the Mississippi. The overall atmosphere in Rockford is just tighter. The only restaurant we have on the river is Castaways, and they’ve got the right idea. But if I’m looking to go out and have a weekend of fun, and you can’t go north that far, the river is being cut into a little lake. If my idea of fun was going out with friends and family, I don’t think I’d go to Rockford. I’d go to Lake Geneva. The City of Rockford has to figure out a way to get people to Rockford, and concerts and boating is a way to do that. Get people from Chicago.

“The dam management and the No Wake closure restrict what you can do on the river, and the more restrictions that are there, people are going somewhere else.

“Thankfully, we were open when ComEd opened the dam this time, and Steve Lucas told us about it. We had to retire almost every boat. We could have had cleats torn off or damaged boats. That’s money. What about the docks upstream that didn’t know the dam was being opened? That’s damage if it was even intentional, or if it was an accident.

“I feel bad for my customers; and if Megan and I didn’t care so much, we would have been done sooner. When we ask other marinas if they would like to come here, they say, ‘No, we’re not going to Rockford.’”

From the July 20-26, 2005, issue

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