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posted: 3/28/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: Study waterway agency before pulling plug

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  • Daily Herald file photoBoats are docked for the evening on the Chain O' Lakes.

      Daily Herald file photoBoats are docked for the evening on the Chain O' Lakes.

  • The boat launch at Chain O' Lakes State Park receives a lot of traffic from fisherman and pleasure boaters alike.

       The boat launch at Chain O' Lakes State Park receives a lot of traffic from fisherman and pleasure boaters alike.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer


State Sen. Terry Link this week pulled down his proposed legislation to eliminate the Fox Waterway Agency, saying the idea needs more study.

Yes, it does.

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The proposal had all the earmarks of a shoot-from-the-hip idea, introduced by Link, a Waukegan Democrat, and state Sen. Julie Morrison, a Democrat from Deerfield. The legislation would eliminate the waterway agency (and presumably its $3.1 million budget and some, if not all, of its 14 employees), which oversees the busy Chain O' Lakes and Fox River in Lake and McHenry counties.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources would assume the agency's duties, which in large part means taking out 100,000 cubic yards of sediment each year to keep the lakes and river open for 21,000 boaters and the bars, marinas and restaurants that make up a multimillion-dollar tourism industry.

The Fox Waterway Agency was created in 1983 to oversee the 15 lakes, 45 miles of river and countless food and entertainment venues that cater to boaters.

It is known as one of the busiest inland recreational waterways in the United States, and other than saying the proposal would rid Illinois of an unnecessary layer of government, neither Link nor Morrison has adequately explained how we can be assured the Chain, and its $6 million in annual tourism, would emerge intact.

What we've heard from the IDNR and its director of the Office of Water Resources, Arlan Juhl, does not inspire confidence. The IDNR does not dredge state-supported waterways, and Juhl says it would take six to 12 months to be ready to take over from the Fox Waterway Agency. And, IDNR doesn't want the job.

On top of that, the plan to dissolve the Fox Waterway Agency has gotten a lot of pushback -- from the agency itself, the IDNR, state Sen. Pam Althoff and state Rep. David McSweeney, and people whose homes and livelihoods depend on the Chain.

Does this mean the proposal to eliminate the Fox Waterway Agency should be abandoned?

No, it doesn't. It means we don't know, and that Link did the right thing Tuesday by pulling the proposal down. He can continue the positive steps by commissioning a nonpartisan study that costs the proposal out and looks at whether a consolidation will cause an economic burden and environmental harm to the 7,100 acres of water the agency oversees.

If a legitimate case cannot be made, Link and Morrison should abandon this plan and look for other ways to save costs through government consolidation.

Maybe, in the process, the Link/Morrison proposal will scare up other possible consolidation targets or, better yet, start a dialogue to create a process to consider and vet such ideas to streamline government.

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