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Chicago River Oil Spill Brings Early End To Rowing Season

By Joe Ward | October 31, 2017 5:36am
 Rowers who went out on the Chicago River last week found their boats covered in oil.
Rowers who went out on the Chicago River last week found their boats covered in oil.
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Provided/James Burns

BRIDGEPORT — The women of Recovery on Water — a rowing team for breast cancer survivors — wrapped up their regularly scheduled practice Wednesday night and began to pull their boats from the water at the Eleanor Street Boathouse.

That's when the women knew something was wrong.

"They were just covered in oil," said Jenn Junk, founder of Recovery on Water said of the boats. "This is a lot of oil. This isn't just an oil leak from a car."

By Thursday morning, crews from various agencies were at the boathouse at 2828 S. Eleanor St., working to contain and clean the spill, which blanketed a milelong stretch of the Chicago River near Bubbly Creek, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

READ: 'Mystery Oil Spill' Near Bubbly Creek Covers Geese, Closes Park, EPA Says

The EPA has not determined the cause of the spill, though it believes it originated in Bubbly Creek, a fork of the south branch that used to be a dumping ground for waste from the Chicago Stock Yards. Cleanup will continue for at least another week as the EPA works to clear pockets of oil remaining in Bubbly Creek, according to the agency.

Crews have been able to rescue three animals — two turtles and a goose, the EPA said. The agency has recovered four dead turtles, one dead goose, one dead seagull and 43 dead fish, it said Monday.

Crews clean up debris from the Chicago River at Eleanor Street Boathouse, 2828 S. Eleanor St., on Thursday. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]

The spill not only harmed wildlife in the area, it effectively ended the rowing season for local schools and clubs like Recovery on Water.

For the local nonprofit, ending the season a few weeks early could mean that it misses out on the chance to raise $25,000, Junk said. That's because Recovery on Water's dueling race fundraiser between the University of Illinois and DePaul rowing teams scheduled for Sunday was canceled.

The two teams compete to raise funds for the nonprofit and already had raised $26,000 before the event, Junk said. Last year's event raised about $50,000. The money goes toward providing breast cancer patients and survivors with an exercise outlet and support network as well as for free rowing classes at the boathouse.

"It will definitely hurt our bottom line," Junk said of the spill.

Recovery on Water has one more fundraiser for the year and is hoping to make up for the cancellation of Sunday's race and fundraiser. The group will celebrate its 10-year anniversary with a fundraising event from 7-11 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame at 1431 W. Taylor St.

Tickets to the fundraiser can be bought here.

"We'll just try and raise as much as we can Nov. 11," Junk said.

Indoor programming at the boathouse has not been affected, said James Burns, head of the park advisory council for the boathouse, officially known as Park 571.

Burns said the rowing community and park neighbors have been reaching out to see if they can help, which he said shows the importance of the facility to the community as well as the neighborhood's commitment to the waterfront park area.

"It's not a river cleanup day," Burns said. "Right now there's nothing we can do but keep people in the loop on what we know."