CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chain O’ Lakes and portions of the Fox River reopened without restrictions to boating Friday, more than three weeks after heavy storms caused widespread flooding, and businesses are hoping the whole season isn’t a wash.
Rob Hardman, owner of Blarney Island, a giant floating bar for boates in the middle of Green Lake in Antioch, said it has been “as rough as it can get” for businesses on the water since storms on July 12 started the flooding.
“It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened for sure. You know, we’re only open four months out of the year,” he said.
Because it sits in the middle of the lake, Blarney Island is entirely dependent on boats to bring in its customers, but because of the floods, Fox River and the Chain O’ Lakes have been closed to boating since mid-July storms.
The Fox River and Chain O’Lakes began receding about a week after the first round of storms, but then swelled again a couple days later when more rain fell. While the river fell below flood stage late last week, the waters were still flowing dangerously fast until recently.
Boating was allowed to resume on a limited basis on the lakes and upper river on Wednesday. Wake restrictions were lifted for those areas Friday, while the lower river was opened to no-wake boating Friday afternoon.
Hardman said he’s glad to have the restrictions lifted, sort of.
“It gets lifted today, and of course its cloudy and chilly,” he said. “It’s a little cold and dismal at the moment, today. The irony is it’s been shut down for 3 ½ weeks of warm sunshiny days.”
The estimated loss to the local economy was $10 million just for the first week after the storms, according to Hardman.
“If that’s accurate, then it’s probably going to be $30, $40 million overall. You’ve got gas stations, grocery stores, marinas, on, and on, and on that have lost out on the biggest month of the summer, which is July,” he said.
Unfortunately for Hardman and other businesses, they can’t get that money back with insurance claims.
Even so, boat-dependent businesses – the marinas, restaurants, rental agencies, gas stations, and other shops – are glad to have boaters return.
Blarney Island has rescheduled its annual Blarney Gras – a Mardi Gras-themed boat party – for this weekend. Boaters have been warned to watch for debris in the water.