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Article updated: 4/23/2013 7:47 PM

Fox Lake-area businesses struggle with flooding

By Lee Filas

Tom Herring used a snow shovel to clear sticks from the edge of the waterline in the parking lot at the Channel Inn Fine Wine and Spirits store he runs in downtown Fox Lake.

The parking lot, which could usually hold about 25 vehicles, was completely submerged due to an overflowing channel of Chain O' Lakes.

"I need to give people at least one spot to park in," Herring said. "I had two kids fishing in the parking lot yesterday. They said it was funny. I didn't think so myself."

The liquor store he manages has about a foot of water in part of the building, but he is still able to sell to customers.

It is one several businesses in and around the Fox Lake area affected by nearly a week of flooding. Others include Knuckleheads Tavern on the shores of Fox Lake, Famous Freddies Roadhouse on Pistakee Lake, and the Whistle Stop Cafe in the center of town.

"A sewer issue caused the problem at Whistle Stop," said Annette Wolf, Fox Lake's emergency services director. "There are a couple of businesses in town that had sewer problems (from flooding) that forced them to shut down."

How much the widespread flooding has cost Lake County residents, business owners and communities is being determined. Tuesday, about 60 officials gathered in Libertyville for a damage assessment workshop.

"There are several different kinds of damage assessment that have to be done," said C. Kent McKenzie, emergency management coordinator.

Individual homes and businesses and governments could be eligible for reimbursement of some costs if there is a federal disaster declaration. A total of more than $2.4 million in flood-related expenses must be incurred before government entities can become eligible, McKenzie said.

"I certainly believe federal assistance is warranted but we have to tell that story to our partners in the state and federal government," he said.

Communities were scrambling to assess their costs, which must be forwarded to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency by 3 p.m. Wednesday. McKenzie said it was not realistic to expect communities to have that information and so state approval was given to use GIS modeling to provide a snapshot.

Results showed 4,500 land parcels with at least one structure "in contact" with flood water. That could be a garage or shed, and the depth of the water could not be determined. Site visits are expected next week.

Wolf said the Chain has crested about 3 feet over flood stage -- and is slowly receding at a pace of 1/100th of an inch per hour Tuesday.

"It will speed up as the week goes on," she said. "But, at this rate, it'll be next week before we actually start seeing major reductions in flood water."

The rain that fell Tuesday would slow the water from receding, Wolf said, but it wasn't enough to add to overall flood totals.

At least 600 homes in the Fox Lake area have been damaged, and 25 businesses in town have been damaged or completely flooded out, Wolf said. About 60 Fox Lake residents evacuated their property, she added.

Rob Hardman, owner of Blarney's Island on Grass Lake, said water is up to the bar top inside the lowest area of the island tavern. Water surrounds Port O' Blarney, the secondary bar, restaurant and boat launch that takes people to the island.

"We had to shut the Port because the parking lot is completely impassable," he said. "The building is doing OK and no floodwaters have worked inside. But, the parking lot is completely submerged."

Hardman said he is unsure when he will reopen.

"At least not until the water recedes, of course," he said. "We're just waiting for that to begin."

In Gurnee, a section of the village is slowly rounding into shape as Des Plaines River floodwater recedes.

Gurnee management analyst Erik Jensen said Grand Avenue/Route 132 has reopened in both directions between Route 21 and O'Plaine Road. Flooding has been concentrated in a section east of the river around Old Grand Avenue, Kilbourne Road and Emerald Avenue.

Firefighters and equipment have returned to Station No. 1 on Old Grand. Headquarters personnel had shifted to Station No. 2 on Gurnee's west side, while firefighters who typically work from Station No. 1 on Old Grand shifted to police headquarters at O'Plaine and Washington Street.

Daily Herald Staff Writer Mick Zawislak contributed to this report.

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