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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

‘Eyesore’ Boat In Chicago River Is Still Stuck 6 Months Later: ‘The Thing Should Be Gone By Now’

“It’s bizarre we have this intrusion in the river and no one is taking care of it,” said a neighbor whose yard is near the boat. “I don’t want to live with it. It’s like garbage. It’s a local curiosity at this point.”

A Metropolitan Water Reclamation boat passes by a fellow boat that was discovered sinking by the Chicago River in September 2021.
Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago
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LINCOLN SQUARE — An abandoned boat is still stuck in the Chicago River more than six months after officials began investigating it.

The boat, near the 2800 block of West Giddings Street, has been in the river near a home’s backyard since at least September. It was tied up and in decent condition, but it’s since flipped and sank — but still bobs at the surface of the river.

“It’s bizarre we have this intrusion in the river and no one is taking care of it,” said a neighbor. “I don’t want to live with it. It’s like garbage. It’s a local curiosity at this point.”

A resident called 311 about the boat in September. Neighbors have spoken to “at least five or six government agencies” about getting it removed, but it remains unclear when the “eyesore” boat will be taken away, said the neighbor.

The woman said debris — including logs, trash and “anything that’s dangling off” nearby trees — has collected near the boat. Someone recently tagged it with graffiti. Neighborhood kids often stop to gawk at it, the neighbor said. 

The neighbor said she’s stopped making calls and hasn’t gotten a response from governmental agencies recently. She said she’s unsure what else residents can do to “make any action happen on this.” 

“The right people know about it, but it’s their job now. It’s out of our hands,” she said. “But it’s still a big piece of trash we see in the river every day.” 

Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago
The sinking boat, visible from the Lawrence Avenue bridge, was discovered in September and has not moved since. A nearby homeowner said it was recently tagged with graffiti.

Paul Ruesch, an on-scene coordinator with the Environmental Protection Agency, previously said the boat — a 1989 Sea Ray which seats up to six people — had an empty tank and was likely abandoned after running out of gas. 

Ruesch said the boat does not pose an environmental hazard with “the gas and oil now long gone.” But it could be a threat to navigation, he said. 

“It’s a shame. The thing should be gone by now. More than defeat, it’s an embarrassment,” Ruesch said last week. “I’ve been working with the government for 32 years; I don’t get too frustrated by things anymore, because I know the wheels don’t turn quickly. But I’m just kind of surprised it’s still here.” 

When a boat’s owner can’t be found, which agency or company removes it can be a game of hot potato. The Coast Guard handles boats abandoned at marinas or by the lake, Ruesch said. Bigger boats are usually insured and can be traced to the insurance company, which covers the removal costs to avoid accident liability, he said.

Smaller boats abandoned by the side of rivers are technically inland and fall to the EPA to tackle, even though the agency has little oversight of maritime issues, Ruesch said. The EPA can’t legally move boats without it becoming the department’s property, he said.

In those cases, Ruesch has often called upon the Illinois Department on Natural Resources, which has a procedure to remove boats if there’s proof it’s “impeding traffic or navigation,” he said.

Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago
Ruesch started investigating by running the state ID on the boat’s hull — but could not find a responsible owner.

Ruesch said responsibility for the boat in the Chicago River is now “squarely in the court” of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. But he hasn’t gotten much response to his calls or texts, he said.

“I got the impression, the last time I talked to them, that this was on somebody’s desk,” Ruesch said. 

An Illinois Department of Natural Resources employee said Friday the removal process has stalled because the boat had “frozen up” during the winter. The employee said the removal is being “worked on at the moment” and directed further questions to supervisors, who could not be reached.

Albany Park resident Eric Gosh said he has made calls to 311 and 911, looked up boat removal procedures, connected with Ruesch and talked to four people at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. 

“Everyone was calling me to tell me it wasn’t their case, but they would get my information to the right person,” Gosh said. “It’s all a testament to our inability to get s— fixed.”

Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago
Albany Park resident Eric Gosh said the boat collects “random crap” everytime he takes his son to daycare.

Removing the abandoned boat will likely cost taxpayers $6,000-$8,000, Ruesch said. A marine salvaging company must be contracted for the job. A diver will have to fasten the boat to “gigantic inflatable pillows,” which pump air into the boat to raise it above water, Ruesch said.

Ruesch said he responds to about six abandoned boat cases each year, and they usually get handled in a matter of days or weeks. 

“With this one, it’s weird it’s still sitting there for such a straightforward salvage,” Ruesch said. “We’re not talking about a lot of time and money here.” 

Ruesch said it may take more of a concerted effort from neighbors to churn the wheels of bureaucracy. 

“I think it will eventually be taken care of,” Ruesch said. “What’s going to end up doing it is if people get hold of an elected official, an alderman, somebody to put the pressure on [the Illinois Department of Natural Resources] to get it going.”

On Friday, the neighbor pointed to baby ducks swimming around the decrepit boat.

“It would be nice if somebody would take care of it,” she said. “It’s been sitting here for a while now. It’s unattractive. This just felt weird from the beginning.” 

Gosh said he thought about starting a GoFundMe or having his son “sell some cookies” to pay for the boat’s removal, but he was told a private citizen can’t remove the boat.

“This is an annoyance we’re going to look at, but likely never going to fix,” Gosh said. “We have significantly larger issues, but this feels like an easy one.”

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