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Flooding cost local government agencies about $3.6M

Area homeowners might be able to get federal aid after severe flooding in July throughout northern Illinois.

Flooding hurt not only residents but local government agencies, which estimate they spent more than $3.6 million on flood relief and cleanup efforts after the Fox River flooding in July, according to a report.

Many businesses missed out on valuable weeks during the summer boating season, with officials at Blarney Island in Antioch predicting the area lost about $10 million. More than 556 homes were affected by the floodwaters, and the Fox Waterway Agency now is racing to catch up on debris cleanup and sediment removal.

Gov. Bruce Rauner asked for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for individuals. If approved, residents would be able to apply for grants and low-interest Small Business Administration loans. 

“FEMA doesn’t make people whole again,” McHenry County Emergency Management Agency Director David Christensen said. “The most any resident could hope to get from FEMA is $33,000. In some cases that covers it, but for others it doesn’t. I talked to one gentlemen who said he was in for $50,000.” 

In order for local government agencies to be reimbursed, McHenry, Kane, Lake and Cook counties have been documenting the extent of the damage to get public aid from FEMA. The four counties combined must meet the threshold of $18.3 million to get aid, according to FEMA’s website.

Lake County’s preliminary cost estimate was $12.7 million, county spokeswoman Jennie Vana said. 

Representatives from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, the Small Business Administration and local emergency management agencies have been assessing the damage to homes and businesses since Aug. 18, and they have until Sept. 9 to send a report to FEMA, said Patti Thompson, spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA then will have 30 days to review the case. If the federal declaration is awarded, it could help reimburse local, county and state governments as well as certain private nonprofit organizations. Costs can fluctuate as FEMA checks the eligibility on all damage, Christensen said.

“We are right on the edge on whether IEMA will request FEMA to go to [the] president,” Christensen said. “I’ve seen it take an hour to weeks if not months to determine whether a county will receive FEMA support.” 

Both Christensen and Fox Waterway Agency Director Joe Keller expressed concerns about what Illinois will get in light of the historic flooding in Texas.

“FEMA is kind of busy right now,” Christensen said. “It might expedite us to get us out of the way by saying let’s figure out Illinois so we can focus on Texas.”

Economic effect

The Fox River and Chain O’Lakes system heavily relies on tourism revenue during boating season, Christensen said. Although the Fox River and Chain O’Lakes already were hurt because of cool and wet June weather, the waterway was closed for more than three weeks because of the flooding.

The owner of Blarney Island pegged the cost at $10 million in lost business for the area, according to the report. Annual festivals in Algonquin and Crystal Lake were canceled. 

Bonnie Miske, general manager at the Broken Oar Marina Bar & Grill, said the flooding almost shut down her business. She said 75 percent of its business annually is made through September, so the abrupt halt hurt the restaurant.

The business sustained damage to the grounds, piers and landscapes on six acres of the property.

“It set us back as if we were starting the summer over again. We will repairing for months to come as we progress out of this,” she said. “You look at what is going on in Texas, and it can always be worse. But we will get out of this.”

Cleaning up the Fox River

The Fox Waterway Agency has spent the past month replacing buoys and clearing debris such as floating trees, piers and chunks of wetland, or bogs.

Keller estimates the flooding cost the agency $3.5 million for waterway cleanup, support and sediment removal. 

Since the start of the flooding, Keller said the agency has spent a lot on overtime hours. Employees are working 40-hour weeks as well as additional four- to eight-hour shifts on Saturdays to remove debris.

Workers started by removing 10 to 12 large bogs and trees, he said, and they have filled “dumpster after dumpster” of old floating docks, sections of piers and people’s personal items such as play sets or yard furniture. 

“In one small section of a lake, you might see 10 to 12 round trips of stuff that would go into one boat,” he said. “Depending on the size of the item, it can take multiple days to remove it. When you have a short-sided staff, we have numerous lists of areas to clean up on the upper level and lower level of the river and the 15 lakes.”

With eight workers, Keller said it is hard to keep up because the staff has to be in multiple places at once. The agency received hundreds of calls throughout the entire river system. 

Sediment effect

The waterway agency’s primary goal throughout the year is to remove sediment built up in the lakes. Once the channel fills up with sediment, which can enter the lake through rainfall, residents cannot access the area, and it will be too shallow for boats to navigate.

The lakes typically receive 100,000 cubic yards of sediment each year, but flooding in July alone brought in that amount. 

“Our dredging schedule that we were on and hopeful to make progress on was kind of put to the side because we have to make sure the waterway is safe, so we focused everything on debris and post-emergency cleanup efforts,” Keller said. 

He said the number of sandbags and amount of sand needed could cause further environmental problems if the sand makes its way into the Fox River or other waterways.

Flood facts
• American Red Cross cases: 1,289
• Cleanup kits distributed: 528
• More than 556 homes were touched by floodwaters.
• 346 homes were affected but did not have insurance coverage for losses.
• 51 homes took water into their living area and had no insurance.
• Families temporarily displaced: 100 to 150
• Salvation Army vouchers: At least 28 families
• More than 9,000 homes in McHenry lost power in one of the large outages.
• 3,200 homes were damaged throughout Illinois, with 244 facing major damage.

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