Winter Park Boat Tour Survives Ian, Faces Weeks of Delays in Reopening

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As residents and businesses asses the damage left by Hurricane Ian, an iconic Winter Park business is temporarily in limbo.

“The flooding is really the only problem,” Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour owner Ron Hightower told the32789. “All of our boats made it through the storm just fine, but the dock is about six inches underwater.”

According to Hightower, safety inspections will begin as soon as water levels at Lake Osceola recede. He estimates two-to-four weeks before normal operations can resume. Conditions were visible beyond the attraction’s taped off entrance on the morning of Saturday, Oct. 1.

Signage alerts guests at the taped off entrance to Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour.

“All the other hurricanes we have dealt with in the past have had more to do with the wind than the rain,” he said. “The flooding has been rough, and not just for the boat tour, but all our neighbors.”

Approximately 12-18 inches of rain was recorded throughout the city after several consecutive hours of downpours between Thursday, Sept. 28, and Friday, Sept 30. As a result, all Winter Park lakes have been closed until further notice. Winter Park’s Natural Resources & Sustainability Department Director Gloria Eby addressed the conditions during a Sept. 30 city work session.

“It’s impacted a lot of homes in the Lake Bell area, Lake Killarney area, and the Chain (of Lakes),” she said of the flooding.

Eby added that wakes, created by boats and motorized water vehicles that took to the lakes shortly after the hurricane ended, were causing serious damage to property due to the water levels. Residents are also advised to avoid contact with lake water and standing water due to the potential for contamination, displaced wildlife, and possible danger from submerged and floating debris.

“We’re going to be monitoring the Chain of Lakes heavily to make sure we’ve got consistent flow in getting that water out,” she said, noting that runoff from widespread street flooding will cause lakes to crest and recede later than usual.

Flooding in Lake Virginia has left Dinky Dock barely visible.

“I would expect about two-to-three days given that this is beyond a 100 year flood (referring to a flood event that has a 1 in 100 chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year). I think we’re probably easily at the 500 year mark with this flooding.”

“As far back as I go with the boat tour, which is about 40 years, this is by far the highest level the lakes have been at,” said Hightower. “We already had a ton of rain in August and September, so there was little room for this storm to dump its water.”

The city will notify residents when the lakes reopen.

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