The U.S. Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers agreed Tuesday to support a two-year pilot program to light the breakwaters surrounding Chicago Harbor.
“The average recreational boater doesn’t take the time to learn anything about the water before getting on,” said Coast Guard Navigation Officer Jim McInnis.
The result is numerous accidents and sometimes fatalities, light plan organizers say.
Members of Chicago’s maritime community met Tuesday to see a demonstration of the lights and to review the proposal for a $250,000 grant administered by the Coast Guard for safety projects.
The solar-powered, blue flashing lights will be installed atop the three concrete breakwaters that run east-west from Oak Street shore, then southeast and south near Navy Pier. The blue lights will not conflict with the lights used by the Coast Guard, officials said.
The lights will be installed every 100 to 150 feet along the walls.
“People come from the north and decide they want to go toward Navy Pier, so they make a straight shot not realizing there is a wall there,” said Kirsten Whipple, spokeswoman of the Chicago Yachting Association, which is spearheading the project.
“Our goal is to eliminate the accidents and fatalities, and we think this could do it,” said Fred Poppe of the yachting association. The lights could be in place as early as spring,” he said.
The Chicago Harbor breakwaters are owned by the Corps of Engineers and managed by the Coast Guard. But the state’s Conservation Police and the Chicago Police Marine Unit must respond to vessels that hit the harbor breakwaters.
The lighting plan has the support of both law-enforcement agencies, though an official with the Conservation Police recommended that statistics be examined to determine whether the lights help.
Law enforcement officials say only a fraction of accidents are reported. Many times the accident is small and damage is minimal; or it’s not reported because alcohol played a role.