Pritzker's order limits 2 per boat. So why are some with more allowed on Lake Decatur? We found out.
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Pritzker's order limits 2 per boat. So why are some with more allowed on Lake Decatur? We found out.

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Fishermen try their luck recently in a cove on Lake Decatur. The state's new stay-at-home order allows for only two people to be on a boat at a time. The city of Decatur has enacted a variance that allows family members that live in the same household to be a boat together.

DECATUR — Families who live together can still boat together on Lake Decatur, a city official has announced.

The prospect of family time on the lake was put in doubt last week when Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced, as part of his revised stay-at-home order, that only two people can be on a boat at a time.

The city of Decatur announced this week a “slight variance” to the state order that allows residents that live together in the same household to be on a boat together, said Joe Nihiser, lake maintenance supervisor.

That’s good news for Blayne Mathis, who lives along the lake and purchases multiple city watercraft licenses for the toys his family of four enjoys. The family includes an 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter.


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Mathis said he understands what the governor is trying to accomplish, but is glad the city stepped in to address what was likely an oversight when the new rules were crafted.

“It just doesn’t make sense from a family perspective,” he said. “You’re not going to contain the virus more by allowing two random people to go out together than you are when you allow a family that is already living together to go out as a family.”

Nihiser emphasized repeatedly the variance only applies to people who are living together. Beyond that, Nihiser said the governor’s standing 2-person order remains intact, along with rules prohibiting large groups and requiring social distancing along the shore and on the water.

That means boats can’t tie up together, gather in large groups and that people in the water must maintain the 6-foot distancing like those on land.

The variation followed a flood of phone calls Friday from local boaters seeking clarification and sharing their concerns, Nihiser said. Prizker made the announcement on Thursday.

“If people take advantage of it, it will change the situation,” he said. “All it’s going to take is a youngster of age, who has access to a boat, to go out with his buddies and that could ruin it for everybody.”

Nihiser added he has not yet spoken with representative of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to determine their stance on the issue should they make one of their routine visits to the lake while the executive order is in place.

The Herald & Review contacted the IDNR late Tuesday seeking clarification.

Nihiser said the coronavirus already had impacted preparations for the summer boating season and scheduled lake events.

He said hiring of part-time lake patrol officers has been delayed and that nine fishing tournaments scheduled to take place in May have been cancelled. He is hopeful a Crappie USA tournament in Decatur in June will go on as planned.

However, Nihiser said the lake remains open and city ramps along Country Club and Lost Bridge roads will be open soon.


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