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posted: 2/25/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: Not so fast on Fox water agency dissolution

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  • Daily Herald file photo/Steve LundyBoaters enjoy the Fox River near Port Barrington.

    Daily Herald file photo/Steve LundyBoaters enjoy the Fox River near Port Barrington.

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

We are all for making government more efficient, especially to reduce duplicate services to save taxpayers money.

It's no secret our state has serious problems. At least some are due to the many, many layers of bureaucracy here.

The Illinois Policy Institute says Illinois has more units of local government than any other state in the nation. With 6,963 units, Illinois beats its nearest competitor, Pennsylvania, by more than 2,000.

Some amount of culling to thin the bureaucratic herd, so to speak, is in order.

In the past, such talk has centered on some townships and the state comptroller's office, to name a few. But Democratic state senators Terry Link and Julie Morrison, both of Lake County, instead want to dissolve the Fox Waterway Agency, which oversees the busy Chain O' Lakes and Fox River in Lake and McHenry counties.

They say their bill aims to reduce redundant government services, duties that could be assumed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

It's a curious choice, especially for two senators whose districts don't include the Chain, and we await any details that justify it. Until then, we urge Link and Morrison not to force a move that has potential to do more harm than good.

With a $3.1 million budget and 14 employees, FWA is charged with improving and maintaining the unique waterway for recreation, ensuring environmental quality and flood control, and promoting tourism. Its main effort is dredging silt and debris from the lakes and river bottoms -- an ongoing problem -- to keep the waterway navigable. It dredges 100,000 cubic yards of muck annually, funded mainly through the sale of $1.5 million in boat stickers each year.

Hanging in the balance are the viability of 15 lakes and 45 miles of river as well as the 21,000 boaters and countless bars, marinas and restaurants that make up a multimillion-dollar tourism industry.

Morrison said she couldn't find any other body of water overseen by a state-mandated agency like FWA. She said IDNR does that job in every other part of the state. "My understanding is the IDNR can more than handle it and will do an excellent job," she told the Daily Herald's Lee Filas.

However, IDNR officials said the FWA should continue operating, and the state is not in a position to assume the extra duties. If this legislation were approved, officials said, it would take IDNR six months to a year to gear up.

And what of FWA's prime duty, dredging? IDNR officials say they do not have an "active dredging program" of state-supported waterways in Illinois.

That should raise concerns for anyone considering this proposal.

Lawmakers should make streamlined government their goal, but they must be sure the rewards outweigh the considerable risk of dissolving the Fox Waterway Agency.

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