Memorial Day: First test of exclusionary zone

Staff Report

    Only one ticket was written over the weekend to an individual violating the city’s new shoreline fishing restriction in the South Island Park, although the officers of the Wilmington Police Department talked with many people about why they couldn’t go in the water during the hottest Memorial Day weekend in decades.
    In April, the City Council passed an ordinance that makes it a violation to go into the river from the South Island Park. It created an exclusionary zone that prohibits anyone from going to the parapet wall or near the turbulent water below the dam for any reason, and restricted the rest of the South Island Park to shore fishing.
    The restrictions became enforceable last week when the city crew posted signs bearing the text of the ordinance,  put up a cable barrier the length of the exclusionary zone, and put up signs that say “restricted area, no entry into water” every few feet from the south end of the park to the north end.
    Police officers made frequent checks of the park throughout the weekend, telling swimmers and fishermen who ignored the “no entry” signs as well as the bilingual electronic sign at the park entrance that they could not be in the water. They explained only shore fishing was allowed now and that under no circumstances was anyone allowed to go near the dam — and that includes going around the cable barrier by walking the shoreline.
    The ordinance comes in the wake of legal action that alleges the city has done nothing at the dam to safeguard public safety. There are two active wrongful death lawsuits pending in the circuit court, in what is probably the first time the city has faced multiple lawsuits at the same time that are the result of separate drowning incidents.
    Beatriz Adame, the mother of Eder Arroyo, 12, and Abigail Arroyo, 13, who drowned at the Kankakee River dam in Wilmington on Memorial Day 2016, filed a wrongful death lawsuit that October. The second active suit, concerning the death of Elizabeth Larson, who went over the dam in a rubber raft last July, was filed in February.
    Police Chief Phil Arnold said people were surprisingly supportive of the city’s effort. Some fishermen gave up, others lined up across the river just north of the Baltimore Street bridge and fished.
    The ticket that was issued was issued the fourth time an officer had to tell the same individual to get out of the water.