A cold, wet, windy spring and summer impacts boating season in the Heartland.
Port Charles Marina in St. Charles, Mo.
Port Charles Marina
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Not even one year after a near-historic drought baked the area, a cold and rainy spring caused the boating season to start late in many places around the Heartland. The impact has seriously curtailed boating plans and slashed profits for marine businesses, bringing comments from “it’s been a lousy year so far” to “ pretty much a lost season.”
It was better or worse in various places, but almost no one we talked to said they had a great spring. Unusual weather produced record low-water levels on the Great Lakes and certain Texas reservoirs, record flooding on the Illinois River and repeated flooding on the Mississippi around the Fourth of July holiday. On the Erie Canal, huge debris fields kept workboats from inspecting dams, and a possible re-opening date wasn’t until at least mid-July, delaying the Loop for some boaters.
Mississippi Marinas Hit Hard
Probably the hardest hit were the marine businesses on the Mississippi River. By late June, water was above the flood stage in many places for the fourth time. At some locations, people needed secondary boats to get to their primary boats. Gas docks and pump outs were shut down, and boaters were advised to stay off the water due to strong currents and heavy bacteria.
Cindy Bisek at Red Wing Marina in Red Wing, Minn., said that spring “has been a challenge,” from snow in May to rain seemingly every other day. There was a lot of debris on Lake Pepin, and a more than two-foot rise in water levels was expected in the week preceding the big Water Ski Days festival in nearby Lake City. The main business at the marina there was pump outs, as people just sat on their boats at the dock.
At Island City Marina in Sabula, Iowa, owner Jerry Lawson said they only pumped about 200 gallons of gas over the Memorial Day weekend, down from their normal 500 to 600 gallons. Bluff Harbor Marina in Burlington, Iowa, went more than eight weeks without being able to get to some of their slips. Things finally seemed to be settling down as they headed into their major weekend, Steamboat Days in mid-June, but then they got 2.5 inches of rain that Saturday night.
“We haven’t had a spring,” said Jaime Aslin at Two Rivers Marina in Rockport, Ill. Late in June, many of their boats were still winterized, as flooding again saturated the area.
Although Port Charles Marina in St. Charles, Mo., had 18 inches of water in their office the first time it flooded — then another 31 inches later — they stayed busy with yard and mechanical work. Fortunately, they had a nice Fourth of July.
Eye on the Illinois
The Illinois River had record flooding in April, and during that time, seven barges broke free and damaged five sections of the Marseilles Dam. That affected the dam’s ability to help control the water level, which made a bad situation worse. One eventual result was that the Marseilles Elementary District 150 sued a barge company for $6.4 million in flood damage.
Ron Setina at Harborside Marina in Wilmington, Ill., said they had a very strong current for a while but were fortunate to not suffer any severe damage.
Spring Brook Marina in Seneca, Ill., was not so lucky. They had three feet of water in their office, forcing them to gut everything. They had earlier pulled many boats, and moved others, to safer locations. Then later, after things had calmed and were returning to normal, a river drawdown took their harbor depth to two feet, so they had to re-pull many of their boats for a second time.
Just below the Marseilles Lock, Heritage Harbor in Ottawa, Ill., sits on a high flood plain, so it accommodated a lot of boats looking for safety. But just downstream, Tom Novak at Starved Rock said their spring was “a disaster.” It took two and a half months to clean up from the April 17 flood, but a bigger problem was the number of boaters waiting for insurance settlements. Many insurers hired sub-contractors who were located far away, and they in turn hired surveyors to write reports. Those had to be sent to the sub-contractor and then back to the insurance company. As of late June, Novak felt it was “pretty much a lost season.”
Downstream in Peoria, Ill., Pat Ward at National Marine Sales said they ended up two months behind, with about 50 percent of the boats in the water at one location and only 20 percent at another.
Ohio River Reports
On the Ohio River, boating season has just recently started in some areas due to the long, cold, wet spring. There were many boats still not re-commissioned, sitting on the banks, while others were damaged from debris in the water.
Around Pittsburgh, Terry Grantz at BoatPittsburgh.com reported it was an odd spring with no real flooding but no long stretches of sunny weather to motivate people to get to their boats.
Another perspective comes from Gary Morton at Rayland Marina in Rayland, Ohio. He said they got hurt by “three months of February.” The wind and cold kept people from getting interested like they normally do.
Business really slowed at Dave’s Marine Service in Belpre, Ohio, because many boats were still on the hard, shrink wrapped, and hadn’t been re-commissioned yet.
The Huntington Yacht Club and Holderby’s Landing in Huntington, W.Va., had a 150-foot dock torn off, but they feel the biggest problem is not the weather but the economy.
There was also a lot of debris at Washington Marine LLC in Cincinnati, but overall business is now up and they are so busy they “don’t know if they are coming or going.” The question at Sea Ray of Cincinnati is whether they can re-coup the sales lost due to the earlier weather. Spokesman Ed Alf said, “ Call me in 60 days, and I’ll let you know how it worked out.”
The nasty weather meant Ron Kolb at Owensboro Marina in Owensboro, Ky., “couldn’t get anything done,” and boats were real slow coming out of storage.
Inland Marina in Evansville, Ind., noted nothing out of the ordinary for them, but the new owners at the Golconda Marina, Carrie and Doug DeVore, drove in snow to their opening day.