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updated: 10/2/2013 3:21 PM

Wauconda water-system work approved, even though town doesn't yet have a link to Lake Michigan

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  • The first phase of Wauconda's long-awaited Lake Michigan water project is expected to begin in spring 2014.

      The first phase of Wauconda's long-awaited Lake Michigan water project is expected to begin in spring 2014.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Carter talks to Wauconda board


Even though they don't yet have a provider for Lake Michigan drinking water, Wauconda officials on Tuesday agreed to start the first phase of engineering on the multiyear, $50 million project.

RHMG Engineers, a Mundelein firm, will be paid nearly $215,000 for the work, which includes installing about 3 miles of water pipe. The board approved the deal unanimously.

Construction will begin in spring 2014, Interim Village Administrator Brad Fink said during Tuesday's meeting at Wauconda High School.

The construction will result in some traffic disruptions and temporary interruptions of water service, Fink said.

Officials will notify residents and business owners of water-service interruptions using door hangers, email, the village website and other means, Fink said.

Voters approved a plan to bring Lake Michigan water to town in November 2012. Residents and businesses get water from wells now.

Funding will come from tax-rate and fee increases.

The project has hit a snag, however.

Last week, after two years of negotiations, the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency board voted to end talks with Wauconda. CLCJAWA directors cited village delays, a lack of trust and other concerns. The 8-1 vote stunned Mayor Frank Bart and other Wauconda officials.

The agency, which serves 12 Lake County communities, had been the village's top choice for drinking water. Negotiations with the Des Plaines-based Northwest Water Commission now are moving ahead, although village officials have expressed interest in salvaging a possible partnership with CLCJAWA.

During Tuesday's discussion, Trustee Linda Starkey asked Fink if it makes sense to begin engineering work before the village secures a provider. In response, Fink expressed optimism about the future of the project.

"I'm confident that we will get Lake Michigan water, so I think it's prudent to start with these improvements at this time," he said.

Tuesday's board meeting was moved to the high school from village hall because more than 200 people -- most upset about the CLCJAWA deal's collapse -- were trying to attend the session, more than could fit in the small boardroom.

Many criticized Bart for how he's handled the project. One told Bart he was unqualified to serve as mayor, while another said he should resign.

The trustees had harsh words for Bart, too.

Trustee Teri Burke called the CLCJAWA board's vote "an epic failure."

Trustee John Barbini said officials need to develop a communications plan that would be led by the village administrator to avoid the "media and public relations disaster that this whole thing has become."

Bart repeatedly accepted responsibility for the CLCJAWA snafu. But he also took a defensive posture and tried to rebut many of the comments from residents and trustees.

At one point, he criticized the board members for keeping him "in the dark" about their frustrations.

"I've got to tell you, how I felt at CLCJAWA, that's how I feel tonight, because I was not apprised of this," he said.

A few audience members stood up for Bart, both during the meeting and in conversations with trustees afterward.

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