August 13, 2011

Elgin seeks grant for Slade boat ramp

Looming budget woes cast shadow on project

A look at the approach to the Slade Avenue Park
boat ramp reveals cracked, crumbling asphalt.
(Ted Schnell • BocaJump)
By Ted Schnell • BocaJump
A drive west down Slade Avenue in Elgin ends at a park laid out along the edge of the Fox River on the city’s East Side.

There is an area for parking to the right, and the driver brings his car to just a crawl as a couple of bicyclists slip out from a wooded trail to the left. They’re headed north on the Fox River Trail, a bike path that meanders through the area, following a shoreline made lush and verdant by this summer’s rains.

Friday evening, some anglers were scattered along the river’s edge, testing their lines against the current as the sun hung low in the sky.

A portion of this park once was home to the Elgin Marine Club, which for years operated a small marina on the leased riverfront property. The marina was a popular place among boaters, who could back their trailers right down the paved ramp and into the water to launch their boats. A pier that once stood along the ramp provided a place to dock the boat until the trailer and vehicle had been parked in the lot.

Early Friday evening, the crumbling asphalt boat ramp leading into the murky water was the only visible remnant of the club. The city staff, in a report to the Elgin City Council earlier this week, acknowledged that with the loss of the club facilities, the launch site has fallen into disrepair and is used much less. Those who still do use it complain to the city that it needs repairs, both above and below the waterline.

The City Council on Wednesday extended a hand of hope to the users of that boat ramp, giving staff the go-ahead to pursue a $220,000 grant for Illinois Boat Access Area Development funds.
Parks and Recreation Director Randy Reopelle explained the city’s commitment to the project would be just $22,000 — money from the parks fund, which can be used solely for park development — capital improvements like the boat ramp fall well within that scope.

But in a year when the city must overcome a $4.5 million deficit, and on a night when the realities of that task were being driven home, perhaps it was just too much to hope for unanimous council support of the project.

Councilman John Prigge cast the sole no vote on seeking the grant, and he expressed regret at doing so. “It's a fantastic deal, but I cannot support it this year,” he said, pointing directly back at the first 90 minutes or so of the meeting.

During that period, the City Council had listened as City Manager Sean Stegall outlined the challenges ahead as the city enters budget deliberations that will require the council to strike balances on many fronts, including the need to avoid sacrificing the future to take care of the present.

Next came a presentation by Public Services Director David Lawry who discussed, among other things, the $4.8 million Lord Street basin combined sewer separation project, which he told city leaders might come with a hiccup of as much as $300,000 or require the closure of Route 31 for several days.

After all this, the council listened as the staff once again laid out a proposal to scale back the annual property tax rebate to Elgin senior citizens who own their homes. The council balked,
putting off a decision on that issue until after the first of the year.

The boat ramp decision came down in a 6-1 vote to seek the grant.

If the Boat Access Area Development grant is approved for the full $220,000, the 2010 Parks and Recreation Master Plan identifies a number of potential improvements:
  • The addition of a concrete mat, laid down on the floor of the river and extending out a distance of 35 feet from the shore, will help stabilize the launch surface and make it easier for boaters to safely launch their vessels.
  • A pier extending into the river at the edge of the launch site will provide a place for the boats to be moored temporarily during this process.
  • The re-grading and paving of the approach drives and parking area for vehicles with trailers is necessary for safer circulation in the launch area.
  • Accessibility with a new walk from the parking area to the pier will bring the site into compliance with the American with Disabilities Act.
According to the city staff report to the council, the improvements likely will draw more visitors to the park even as they end the complaints from those who use it now. The improvements also are intended to eliminate conflicts between Fox River Trail users and boaters using the launch.

Elgin has only one other public boat launch within the city, which is at Elgin Shores Park on the city’s South Side. There is another public boat launch in the area on the Fox River at Voyageur’s Landing, a Kane County Forest Preserve site on the west side of the river, just north of the Interstate 90 bridge.

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