‘We’re moving in the right direction’: Fox Waterway cresting just below record

It appears that the 2017 flood on the Fox River and Chain O’ Lakes is going to be a few buckets of water short of the record 2013 flood level, as the waterway continued to crest on Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

In the meantime, Grand Avenue in downtown Fox Lake had enough water for officials to close it, and about 20 percent of the Lakeland Shopping Center parking lot had water, but businesses were still open.

Many neighborhoods and subdivision roads in the village were marked with "residents only" signs as water covered parts of the pavement. At Knollwood Park on Duck Lake, someone placed a "No Wake" buoy in the middle of the roadway to slow people down, because the wake from cars can cause water to go over sandbag protections around a home.

The Fox Waterway Agency (FWA) was building up a sandbag wall at its offices off Route 12 on South Pistakee Lake Road when officials noticed a jet skier barreling along that was sending out a wake that was damaging the wall of sandbags.

"I think we have him identified," said Wayne Blake, a board member. "It blew out a side wall. That really irked me."

Joe Keller, executive director of the agency, said they weren’t the only ones angry.

"We were yelling, and some of the people in the neighborhood were yelling at him," he said. Police Chief James Lee said they are investigating the incident.

On Friday, the Fox Lake Fire Department responded to a man who was in a boat towing a pontoon with a canopy on it when the pontoon got stuck under the Route 12 bridge. The boat remained wedged until two boats from the FWA came and towed him out.

"There were no injuries," Battalion Chief Brent Connelly said. "He was apparently told he couldn’t tow the boat."

Connelly added that there have not been a lot of rescues, and many people are sheltering in place, even if their basements are swamped.

Keller said his agency usually spends all its time dredging silt, so assisting in a serious situation like Friday’s was a change of pace.

"I’m glad we were able to help," he said.

Over at the village’s Lakefront Park off Route 12, there are benches that people or fisherman can use that are a few feet from shore — only now, just the very tops of them are visible because of the floodwater. Several homes at the end of Atwater Parkway were fully surrounded by flood water as were other nearby neighborhoods.

In Antioch Township at the Skipper Buds facility on Route 173, a waist-high wall was keeping the waters at bay on Monday, although water did initially get into the showroom and workers started tearing out damaged material in the offices.

"We’ve had a lot of help from our employees, the community, the township and the village. It was a huge outpouring of help," said Mark Ellerbrock, a spokesman for the marina.

Workers said it appeared the water was starting to go down Monday. The marina is connected to Lake Marie by a channel that has Sequoit Creek emptying into it as well.

On Channel Lake, Frank Szczepaniak, 74, said the mark on his tree from the historic 2013 flood was a few inches higher than the waterline from this year’s flood. He added that the water had gone down slightly Monday along Beach Street, where he has lived for many years. It’s still 24 inches from damaging the inside of his house.

"It’s starting to go down, about an inch. I do have a crawl space and a pump going 24 hours a day," he said, "So I’m fine."

He chuckled and added, "Look at the bass coming up the roadway. I could get my fishing pole."

Meteorologist Gino Izzi of the National Weather Service said the river was cresting Monday and was at 7.5 at the Stratton Lock and Dam. In 2013, the officials recorded a record 7.62.

Keller from the FWA said the agenecy uses a different gauge with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which gives them a better gauge of the lake system waterway. He said the 2013 flood was at 7.9, and on Monday it was just over 8.

"It’s two to three inches more than 2013," he said. "But we’re moving in the right direction. We have 25 percent more water leaving the system than what is coming in."

The only problem on the horizon is the making of a thunderstorm system coming into the area in a few days. At this point, forecasters can’t predict where it will hit, but it is like the storm that dumped record amounts of rain on the area last week.

"There is an active pattern coming into the area, but we can’t pinpoint who gets what where," Izzi said. "We’re in a cone of uncertainty."

Any period without rain would still take some time for the waterway to get back to normal — Keller said that in the past, it has taken up to 15 days for the water levels to come down enough to open the waters to boaters.

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