Guest Column: No Wake zone is too ‘excessive’

Editor’s note: The following is the text of a speech that Rockford boater and resident Rick Fiduccia presented to the Winnebago County Board on Nov. 10. The sentiments of his speech were supported by Winnebago County Board member Chris K. Johnson (R-4).

Thank you for allowing me to address the Winnebago County Board again. I last stood here on July 14th to discuss the excessive No Wake zone on the Rock River. A lot has happened since that time; that is why I am here, to bring you up to speed.

I was finally able to obtain all of the data on how the Sheriff’s Department requested and received the No Wake zone using the Freedom of Information Act with the state of Illinois.

On Aug. 5th, 2002, a letter from Sheriff Meyers office was sent to the DNR requesting a new restricted area be enacted on the Rock River in front of Martin Park because of a safety issue. Remember, the docks at Martin Park were installed in 1956, and there has never been a reported accident at this location.

The letter to the DNR stated, and I am quoting, “The river at this location is normally about 250 feet across.” Yet the Sheriff’s department’s own map clearly shows in writing the river is 479 feet wide.

The letter to the DNR goes on to state, again I am quoting, “On average 75 to 100 boats per hour of various configurations and sizes will pass though this bottleneck on a normal weekend day.” We conducted an actual hourly boat count on Saturday, Aug. 27 from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m. A peak of 87 boats were passing through this area during the 3 to 4 p.m. time frame. Hours before 2 p.m. had boat counts less than 30, and by the 6 p.m. hour, boat counts were under 15.

Also quoting from the Sheriff’s Department letter requesting a restricted area to the DNR, “At this time, I request that the area of the Rock River at Martin Park, from the Riverside Bridge south to the island located at the south end of Martin Park, about 400 yards, be restricted to a No Wake area.” Again the DNR is misled; the actual length is 827 yards, that is according to the Sheriff’s Department’s own map.

Another area of concern is a letter from the DNR to the Sheriff’s Department on Jan. 13th, 2003. The letter states, and I am quoting from the DNR letter, “In reviewing your request, I find that it is missing the following information which is required by part 2030 before an area can be considered for restriction: The petition must:

“Be accompanied by a minimum of 25 signatures of interested persons over the age of 18 who would be directly affected by the restriction;

“Contain a detailed description of the area proposed for restriction with appropriate maps and other supporting data.”

On Feb. 1st, 2003, 18 days after the Sheriff’s Department received the request to send the missing information, it was submitted to the DNR. The petitions that were needed had to be signed by persons over the age of 18 who would be directly affected by the restriction.

After reviewing the petitions, the Sheriff’s Department submitted to the DNR, that I was able to obtain through the Freedom of Information Act, it became clear that a number of problems existed, including that fact that most of the people that signed the petitions are employed at Harlem High School, including office staff, lunch ladies and janitors.

The Rock River is enormous for the local economy. We have now lost two marinas, both of which sold very expensive boats, tax dollars for the community along with countless dollars of disposable income that boaters bring to the community. The River District Association board president issued an open letter supporting changes in the No Wake zone.

Mistakes have been made. We don’t believe there is a factual safety concern, plus we support the state statute of a 150-foot No Wake zone around the docks at Martin Park. Now it is time to correct the mistakes before the boating season of 2006 and bring the recreational enjoyment and positive economic impact back to the Rock River that boaters have come to expect.

From the Nov. 23-29, 2005, issue

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