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Article posted: 10/31/2013 12:19 PM

Wauconda still hoping to join water group

By Russell Lissau

More than a month after Wauconda was spurned by an agency that provides drinking water to part of Lake County, village officials still are trying to salvage a relationship with the group.

"I think it's possible," Trustee Linda Starkey told the Daily Herald in an email.

Interim Village Administrator Brad Fink was equally optimistic in a separate email.

"We are rebuilding relationships and awaiting information," Fink said.

The relationship in question is with the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency, which provides drinking water to 12 communities. And it was seemingly blown to bits Sept. 25 when the water board formally broke off talks with Wauconda after two years.

The move shocked village leaders and residents who had been following the town's quest for Lake Michigan drinking water.

Wauconda voters approved a $50 million plan to connect to a Lake Michigan water system in 2012. That included $41 million in loans, some of which already has been collected.

The town now gets drinking water from wells.

Officials had been nearing a deal with neighboring Volo to join the water agency. But the process slowed after Mayor Frank Bart took office in May.

The agency gave the village two deadlines to vote on a deal this summer. Bart and the trustees instead asked for more time to weigh their options.

At the Sept. 25 meeting, agency officials voiced displeasure with the delays and expressed other concerns about Wauconda's actions. With Bart and the trustees watching, the board voted 8-1 to end negotiations with Wauconda.

The agency now is pursuing deals with Volo, and Lake Villa and Lindenhurst.

"That was a tough decision for the JAWA board but one that had to be made to move the other three new members forward," said Round Lake Beach Mayor Rich Hill, who leads the water agency's board.

But Wauconda officials haven't given up. Feeling the heat of community criticism, Bart publicly took the blame for the village's failure to secure a water deal and removed himself from the village committee that had been negotiating with the agency.

Additionally, trustees and other village officials quickly reached out to agency members to find out where things went wrong.

Although other options for Lake Michigan water are available, they've also made it clear that CLCJAWA remains their top choice, Fink said.

"I believe, as the board does, that CLCJAWA is a great organization and the preferred source for (water)," Fink said.

At an Oct. 1 village board meeting dominated by talk of the water agency vote, residents and officials briefly discussed whether village trustees could quickly approve the deal that had been offered by CLCJAWA as a way to undo the agency's dismissal.

But that's not possible, officials told the Daily Herald.

With Wauconda out of the picture, the water agency commissioned an engineering study that will look at possible pipe routes for Volo. That study is due to be released in January.

Any serious talks with Wauconda will have to wait until after the Volo study is complete, Hill said.

"Our board realizes Wauconda needs Lake Michigan water," Hill said in an email. "But we also know they have alternatives, as Mayor Bart made clear in his presentation to our board."

Wauconda officials say they'll remain in contact with the agency until the report is released.

"We are keeping the lines of communication open between all the parties, so they know Wauconda is interested and serious," Starkey said.

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