Boaters Flock To Lake Michigan Playpen, Despite Mayor Lightfoot Ordering It Be Closed This Summer

The U.S. Coast Guard has control over the water, not the city.

Nancy Harty
July 27, 2020 - 8:05 am

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Another hot and sunny day means boaters are likely to head to the Playpen in Lake Michigan that Mayor Lightfoot has tried to close. 

Some neighbors that live near the Playpen, a stretch of the Lakefront just north of the Ohio Street Beach, have been trying to stop parties that involve people hopping between boats tied up together. 

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John Baldwin, 74, is one of them. He told CBS 2 the parties are a perfect breading ground for COVID-19.

“Sometimes the boats gather together and it turns into a COVID-19 party,” Baldwin said. “I’m kind of astounded how the activity out there runs counter to all of the worthwhile restrictions the city has to prevent the spread of COVID-19."

Mayor Lightfoot made an announcement two months ago stating the Playpen would be closed this summer, but the city can’t enforce that, because the Playpen and other parts of the lake are patrolled by the U.S. Coast Guard. 

The U.S. Coast Guard said city and state health regulations do not affect the Playpen, local leaders have no authority to close it.

“The Captain of the Port, Sector Lake Michigan, will continue to enforce federal law and regulations to ensure the safety and security of federally navigable waterways, including Chicago Harbor anchorage areas, in accordance with Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The State of Illinois and/or City of Chicago may concurrently enact and enforce COVID-19 measures in the interest of public health and safety for state-regulated waters and state/city-owned adjacent property.  However, the Coast Guard does not intend to enforce any such state laws or city ordinances on behalf of those entities. Additionally, neither the state nor the city may close a federally navigable waterway in the interest of public health or safety.” a U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson wrote in a statement to CBS 2.

The city does have enforcement, though, over its harbors, where it has imposed limits on the number of people on board, depending on vessel size.

But, neighbors hope by speaking up and taking pictures things will change.