ALBANY PARK — A mysterious boat marooned on the side of the Chicago River in Albany Park has finally been removed — almost a year after it was abandoned there.
The boat was removed recently by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, Commissioner Cam Davis said in an email. It was discovered stuck along the side of the river in September 2021, its origins unknown.
Neighbors long complained the boat — which had flipped over and was slowly sinking — was an “eyesore” that attracted gawkers, led to debris piling up and harmed wildlife. Block Club reported in the fall and spring that government agencies were debating who should have to remove it.
Albany Park resident Eric Gosh read the first Block Club story about the boat and took it upon himself to “call someone important anytime I walked past it,” he said.
State officials told Gosh they were aware of the boat, but given procedures and approval processes, they “couldn’t get out there and move it themselves, even though they wanted it fixed,” he said.
The matter had been “on somebody’s desk” at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Paul Ruesch, an on-scene coordinator with the Environmental Protection Agency, said in November. Davis was not immediately available to answer questions about how the boat ended up in the purview of the Water Reclamation District.
Gosh said the removal comes with “an eyeroll and a chuckle.”
“I’m glad. It’s kinda like how you feel when a pothole gets fixed. You wonder how it took so long, but you’re happy they did it,” Gosh said. “But I don’t know if this is a thing we should have to celebrate.”
The small power boat turned up in the 2800 block of West Giddings Street and had been on the river near a home’s backyard since at least September 2021. At first it was tied up in decent condition — but then flipped over and caused a small oil sheen on the water, the homeowner said in November.
That’s when the homeowner started making calls, and an alphabet soup of “at least five or six government agencies” started dropping by and phoning in to investigate, a neighbor said in April.
Ruesch came by early on and determined the boat was a 1989 Sea Ray, which seats up to six people, he said. It had an empty tank and was likely abandoned after running out of gas, he said in April.
The oil sheen was “minor” and did not pose a contamination risk, Ruesch said.
“It’s bizarre we have this intrusion in the river and no one is taking care of it,” a neighbor said in April. “I don’t want to live with it. It’s like garbage. It’s a local curiosity at this point.”
Ruesch, who has been with the Environmental Protection Agency for 30 years, previously said he responds to about six abandoned boat cases each year.
If the boat owner can be quickly found, that person is responsible for the property and its removal, Ruesch said. But Ruesch ran the ID on the boat’s hull and found previous owners made credible sales and hadn’t used the boat in more than a year, he said.
When a boat’s owner can’t be found, which agency or company has to remove it can be a toss-up of red tape. 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.
“You can’t just grab someone else’s property and walk off with it. Even though it is impaired,” Ruesch said in November. “If you move an abandoned vessel, in a sense you’re taking legal responsibility for it.”
In those cases, Ruesch has often called upon the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which has a procedure to remove boats if there’s proof it’s “impeding traffic or navigation,” he said. In April, an Illinois Department of Natural Resources employee said the process had stalled because the boat had “frozen up” during the winter, but the removal was being “worked on at the moment.”
Gosh thinks a good democracy should chug along a bit faster.
“There’s so many big things happening in the world, but something like this, like a pothole, we have control to work on,” Gosh said. “But sometimes it takes a long time. And a lot of awareness to get stagnant issues moving. Someone needs to sign a thing and they’re busy doing something else.
“It hadn’t been sitting in their backyards.”
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