Great Loop blocked by Illinois Waterway closure

Share experiences, ask questions and add knowledge about the Great Loop, the cruise around the eastern U.S. and Canada that so many boaters dream of enjoyig.

Great Loop blocked by Illinois Waterway closure

Postby Georgs » Tue Sep 01, 2009 1:09 pm

The Great Loop has been closed near Chicago. Here's a report by Jack Manley, owner/operator of Chicago Marine Towing.

This summarizes what I know about the situation as it exists now:

1. The problem was initiated when Asian Carp DNA was detected above the fish fence. This does not mean that any of the live fish are there, but that they are closer than ever before.
When the fish were detected actually closer to the fence "powered zone" than ever before, the U.S. Army Corps of engineers ramped up the electrical current to twice what it had been previously.
Commercial barge tows reported sparks jumping from barge to barge, and flickering along the towboat hulls.
At that point the USCG Commander of Sector Lake Michigan who also acts as the Chicago Captain of the Port implemented the following temporary regulations.

1. The only vessels that were allowed to transit the electrified zone would be: Metallic hull vessels powered by diesel engines.
2. Pleasure craft could transit the zone only if they were over 20' LOA (by USCG measurement which is length over deck excluding platforms and bowsprits), and diesel powered and metal hulled-steel or aluminum, thus excluding any copper or bronze hulled vessels which might be hanging around.
3. No red flag barges (petroleum products or explosive cargos) could transit the zone.
4. No more than 2 barges in any tow could transit the zone and they must be towed as in #1 above and be connected only by steel cable.
5. Pleasure vessels could be towed through the zone by an acceptable tow vessel-see # 1&2 above, one vessel at a time, towed on the hip and all electrical devices and engines on the towed vessel must be shut down and batteries disconnected, and all personnel off the yacht.
6. Only one tow at a time could transit the zone from each direction, and except for meeting and passing there can be no overtaking or passing within the zone.

Since I started writing this, the USCG has begun allowing red flag barges to transit the zone, one barge at a time, and no one else can be in the zone while a red flag barge is transiting the zone. The red flag barge must be made up to the towboat so as to ground itself to the towboat-i.e. steel cable.

As things sit now, one pleasure vessel at a time may be towed. The only vessel towing as of now is from ARTCO towing, they are a commercial towing company and are using one of their small "fleeting" boats to tow and are charging $600 per tow. There has not been a formal announcement but pleasure craft are being deferred in order that commercial tows may proceed, this the same situation as at the locks. Pleasure boats are being towed through when there is no commercial traffic going in the same direction.

ARTCO is demanding an unconditional release of liability from each vessel they tow, leading me to suspect that they are not covered by liability insurance for assistance towing-make sure your vessel is covered for the EXACT situation you are transiting.

There is a USCG vessel at each end of the zone passing judgement on each vessel/tow as it approaches for passage through the zone.

At this time TowBoat U.S. has taken the position that their contract with members does not cover this situation as the boats are not disabled but are being delayed by governmental action, just as at locks.

I will attempt but cannot promise to post updated information as it becomes available.

At this time there is absolutely no information as to how long this situation may exist. Since it is now a choke point and not a barrier to commercial traffic the situation may persist longer than if certain type commercial cargos were prohibited.

As for bypassing the choke point, other than going east for a couple thousand miles, the following options seem to be viable:
1. Having a boat hauled and trucked around the choke point, obviously size limited
2. Arranging storage at a local marina and coming back next year
3. Under study-filling a large barge with water, putting several yachts in it, transiting the choke point and them unloading the barge below the choke point, obviously an enormous logistics problem for preparing to meet a situation which might go away tomorrow.

At this time TowBoat U.S. Chicago (Chicago Marine Towing) has no plans to deploy a tow vessel to the affected area as we have only one vessel which meets the CG requirements, and we need it on Lake Michigan.

I will attempt (again not promise to) update the information as it becomes available.


For more info: ... index.html
http://blog.greatlakesboatingfederation ... -ship.html

Chicago Marine Towing Information is available on the Boat U.S. web site under TowBoat U.S. Chicago, Waukegan, Kenosha, Hammond, Michigan City, New Buffalo and Illinois Waterway. Essentially we cover Lake Michigan from Milwaukee to halfway between New Buffalo and St. Joseph/Benton harbor. North of that on the Michigan side other TBUS operators take over, on the Wisconsin side the next TBUS operator is Sister Bay Wisconsin.
We do cover the Illinois Water Way to 100 miles south of the Cal/Sag Junction.
Last edited by Georgs on Wed Sep 02, 2009 8:22 am, edited 3 times in total.
Posts: 126
Joined: Fri Mar 06, 2009 9:16 pm
Location: Frenchman's Bay, Lake Ontario

Getting around the Illinois Waterway closure

Postby Georgs » Tue Sep 01, 2009 1:12 pm

From: Roger Montembeault
Sent: Sunday, August 30, 2009 8:44 PM
Subject: [AGLCA:13362] Transit through the Fish Barrier - Illinois River

Four looper boats left Marine Services on the Cal Sag this morning at 0700 and arrived at the safety zone at around 1100. Our party notified the CG about a 1/2 hour out to confirm all paperwork was ok which they confirmed and advised us where to hold north of the safety zone until the tug (Buster White) came up to get us. One other boat arrived shortly after us and was the fifth in line. Tug came up to our holding area, one boat went over to him and tied up to him for a side tow (they gave us specific instructions on where to be, lines to have ready, fenders, etc.). Once you were tied to the tug, you shut down all equipment, removed positive battery cables from all batteries and moved over to the tug. Filled out the paperwork and gave them a check for $600. Tow then departed and took about 15 minutes through the zone. Got to the other end, jumped on your boat again, reconnected all the batteries, fired up the engine, broke the lines and away we went, happy to be done with it and $600 lighter in our pockets. All told, each boat took about 1 hour, so if you were the fifth boat in line, you had to hang out for 4 or 5 hours on the channel waiting your turn.

We waited at Lockport Lock (3 miles down river) for an upbound tow to lock up and we then went down and tied up in Joliet where we celebrated our Carp Escape with other escapees.

Big waste of money and time in my opinion, but there is absolutely nothing any of us can do about it. We were glad to be through with it and if they don't lift the restriction in the next week or two, it will be a big mess for all loopers and Chicagoland boaters trying to get through the safety zone. We were lucky today - the tug only had one commercial tow that they had to handle in the zone when we first got there. Picture the mess it will be if there are 5 to 10 boats waiting to go downbound with commercial traffic going both up and down using the same tug (only one tug and one boat can go through at a time). One of the towboat captains told me that they have to pay $700 for the tow service through the zone - doesn't seem right that a 36' boat has to pay almost the same, but it's a waste of time to fret over it.

We're now waiting in Joliet for the railroad drawbridge to get fixed. That problem is stacking up tows trying to go up and down the river as well. Time for another Mount Gay!

Roger Montembeault
Joliet Town Docks

For more info: ... index.html
http://blog.greatlakesboatingfederation ... -ship.html
Last edited by Georgs on Tue Sep 01, 2009 1:23 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Posts: 126
Joined: Fri Mar 06, 2009 9:16 pm
Location: Frenchman's Bay, Lake Ontario

No warning about Illinois Waterway closure

Postby Georgs » Tue Sep 01, 2009 1:14 pm

I'll add my 2 cents gained from my time researching while inCARPcerated awaiting
for a more economical method to transit other than the current $600 towing
fee for a dead boat (no souls on board, and batteries disconnected at posts
and all breakers off, etc. you can read details on the USCG site attached
below) for the .7 of a mile on straight open river. They are only allowing
one boat at a time thru. This barrier has been in existence since 2002
however they recently found that the original voltage was not enough to keep
the small fish(carp) out so increased it greatly and subsequently issued the
restrictions on transiting the barrier. ... index.html

The restriction was sudden and without warning, catching everyone off guard.
The Corps is currently testing the real effect upon non metallic hulled
vessels and then after analysis with the USCG will further define transit
restrictions thru the barrier. This could mean business as before or greater
restrictions. They have publicly stated that they have been given a mission
to stop the Carp and that is their goal and that they regret the
inconveniences to the boating public but their mission takes priority.
Negotiations are ongoing to arrange with boat US / Sea Tow to provide this
service at a more economical price point, however the tow companies
insurance seems to have stymied that effort for now. As it stands now there
only one company providing this service even though several are listed by
the USCG most have declined requests by boaters searching price comparisons.
Mr Manley is very aware of these issues and is the bewt to add clarity to
the towing. Procedures and requirements to transit the barrier are listed
on the below site. The Corps has stated that the testing analysis on non
metallic hulled boats will be completed and announced by Sept. 9th..
Several of the Loopers have decided to pay the fee fearing a more
restrictive closure. The busy season crunch for the Illinois River will be
starting immediately after Labor Day. The crunch will consist of the
remaining loopers (>35) and the Great Lakes resident snowbirds who start
their trips south after Labor Day. It will be very interesting to see how
any kind of boat volume could possibly be accommodated given the restriction
of only one boat (either direction) at a time allowed to be in the barrier
protection zone, including barges, tows, recreational vessel etc. .

The sad reality is that the carp are already in the Great Lakes! I snip the
below from the Univ. of Wiconsin invasive specie Asian Carp page.

Snip: from link below "...
Aristichthys nobilis
Where did the Big Head Carp come from?
The big head carp is native to Asia

It was introduced to the Mississippi River when private hatchery ponds were
washed out in the state of Arkansas in the 1970's or possibly they were let
go into the wild when they were no longer needed by the fish farmers

Appeared in open water in the early 1980's in the Ohio and Mississippi

Big head carp have been found in at least 19 states including Lake Erie..."
From the below site: ... tabid=1613

Word is that the Asian carp have already been found in Monroe Harbor,
Chicago Lakeshore front but I can not quote an official source. That said,
if they are in the St Lawrence and Lake Erie as officially announced, then
their gaining access to the other Lakes is a given.

Pure conjecture and personal opinion below:
Personally, I feel the Corps is overreacting as they were advised by their
own consultant invasive specie Phd to roll the voltage back to pre closure
voltage periodically to allow non metallic hulled boats to transit then
increase it back. I feel they are defensively posturing and are exercising
extreme care so they can wave the flag of "due diligence" to defend the
closure/restrictions. I don't discount the high voltage potential danger
but in light of their disregard of their own advisor's input I wonder.

Joseph C. Pica
M/V "Carolyn Ann" GH N37
Currently serving time "inCARPcerated" in Racine, Wi.(nice town) pending
appeals and a reduction in bond/fine :)

For more info: ... index.html
http://blog.greatlakesboatingfederation ... -ship.html
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Battle to keep Asian carp out of Great Lakes

Postby Georgs » Sat Sep 05, 2009 8:51 am

Battle against Asian carp leaves boaters fuming
September 2, 2009 9:47 PM
By Joe Hood
Chicago Breaking News Center

On one of the busiest boating weeks of the year, dozens of watercraft are docked along the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Romeoville, casualties in a win-at-all-costs battle with a shadowy underwater nemesis: the mighty Asian carp.

The razor-toothed carp is not native to the rivers of Illinois, and its voracious appetite and prolific breeding have long sent chills up the spines of aquatic researchers who fear it may one day make its way into the Great Lakes and devastate the region's $4.5 billion fishing industry.

To keep the carp from advancing into Lake Michigan, the Army Corps of Engineers in April activated the second of two underwater electric barriers in the narrow shipping canal in southwest suburban Chicago, a popular corridor for commercial and recreational boaters and the only continuous waterway linking the Chicago and Mississippi Rivers.

When new DNA research recently showed the carp was actually 10 miles farther upriver than previously thought, alarmed Army Corps officials last month doubled the amount of voltage the barriers produced. Though that may keep the carp at bay, fears of electrocution and explosions have prompted the Coast Guard to ban most recreational boats from passing over those barriers until officials figure out the safety risks. And that has left many boaters fuming.

"I don't think the Army Corps has given any thought to the recreational boaters traveling in this area," said boater Roger Montembeault, 62, of Indianapolis, who was denied passage and forced to dock for a week near Dolton. Montembeault, part of a group of five boats traveling south to the Mississippi River, said his convoy eventually lost patience, and each paid a local marine towing company $600 to be carried a half-mile down the canal.

If boaters are inconvenienced, corps officials said, it's a small price to pay for a war they cannot afford to lose. "We've heard from dozens and dozens of boaters, and the Coast Guard is extremely aware of their concerns," said Lynne Whelan, spokeswoman for the corps. "But most are understanding of the larger picture and just want us to move as quickly as we can."

The Army Corps is studying what effect the higher voltage has on passing boaters. The two biggest concerns are whether metal-bottom boats could produce a spark that could ignite explosive cargo in a passing barge, and what might happen if a boater fell overboard. It could be several days before the corps knows the answers to either of those questions, Whelan said, and probably even longer before the Coast Guard would lift the ban.

"This is a critical waterway no matter how you look at it," said Capt. Luann Barndt, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan. "The only other route out of the Great Lakes is the Erie Canal, a 6,000-mile journey. I understand the frustrations."

Meanwhile, the threat of invasive fish is growing. Asian carp -- part of a family of fish that escaped from fish farms in the South in the mid-1990s -- have steadily eaten their way toward the Great Lakes in the last 15 years.

For more than a decade, the state Department of Natural Resources' best methods for tracking the fish's movement were to witness it firsthand, either by catching them in nets and or by stunning them with electrical currents and watching them float to the top of the water. But earlier this summer, researchers began using a more precise method pioneered by the University of Notre Dame to filter large samples of water for carp DNA residue.

The results were startling, said Steve Shults, director of aquatic invasive species for the Department of Natural Resources. Though previous methods had the carp no closer than 15 miles outside the electric barriers, "environmental" DNA testing showed they were actually within 5 miles. That was confirmed last week when a fish biologist set eyes on an adult carp above Brandon Road Lock near Lockport, an area of "extreme risk" for those fighting the fish's charge.

"The alarming thing is that this fish is much further upstream than we actually knew," Shults said. "That our normal testing methods failed to detect this is really surprising and quite concerning."

In response, the Army Corps increased the intensity and frequency of the pulsing underwater electric currents, from one to two volts per inch, hoping to force carp out of the area.

While they determine the effectiveness of the higher voltage, officials are also looking into whether rain-swollen rivers last fall may have helped Asian carp enter new waterways by bridging land masses that are meant to remain dry. Specifically, researchers are concerned about an area of the Des Plaines River -- where the carp are currently located -- that runs parallel to the barriers in the Sanitary and Ship Canal. It's possible that intense rainfall could have flooded the narrow stretch of land that separates the two, allowing the carp to move freely into the canal above the electric barriers, the last line of defense before the Great Lakes.

"If the carp move into Lake Michigan and end up competing for food with all the sport fishes we like, it would devastate the salmon and trout populations," Shults said. "There's almost nothing that can be done at that point."
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Re: Great Loop blocked by Illinois Waterway closure

Postby captainwjm » Wed Sep 16, 2009 9:37 am

Sept 11, 2009 - The U.S. Coast Guard announces that the Captain of the Port Lake Michigan will allow, on a case by case basis, certain recreational vessels to transit the safety zone on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal surrounding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ electric fish barrier from mile marker 296.0 to mile marker 296.7.

The Coast Guard will continue to enforce the safety zone near the fish barrier. However, based on the initial results of recent safety tests conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard will consider, on a case by case basis, requests by recreational vessels to transit through the zone under their own power. Previously, certain vessels were permitted to transit through the safety zone only while being towed. Mariners must request permission to transit and comply with all instructions of the Coast Guard on-scene representative who can be contacted on VFH-FM Channel 16 or at (630) 336-0296.

Starting Saturday, September 12, 2009, the Coast Guard will begin allowing, on a case by case basis, certain vessels greater than 20 feet in length to transit through the safety zone. Transit times will be from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. All persons aboard a vessel transiting the safety zone must wear a Coast Guard approved personal flotation device while in the vicinity of the barrier.

Due to the risk of personal shock, the following types of vessels will still be prohibited from transiting the safety zone: all personal watercraft, canoes, kayaks, rafts, shells, or sailboats without a motor.

“There are very serious risks associated with coming in contact with electrified water.” said Capt. Luann Barndt, Commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan. “We want to ensure people understand all the risks before they decide to request permission to transit through the safety zone.”
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