Six months after a regional agency told Wauconda to look elsewhere for Lake Michigan drinking water, village trustees on Tuesday will consider a deal with neighboring Volo that could get their $50 million plan back on track and fix a very public blunder.
For that to happen, however, the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency board would have to unanimously approve the proposal, too. And considering some of those officials had very strong words for Wauconda and Mayor Frank Bart before they voted to cut the town loose in September, that could be a tough sell.
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Volo Mayor Bernard Russell believes the two towns will be OK.
"I think we've got it done," Russell said Monday. "Everything is on board."
Wauconda Trustee Linda Starkey is optimistic, too.
"It's not a done deal, but things are lining up," said Starkey, part of the Wauconda team that's been trying to rebuild a relationship with Volo and the water agency.
Wauconda homes and businesses get drinking water from local wells. 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 have been collected.
The CLCJAWA board stunned Wauconda leaders and residents in September 2013 when it formally broke off talks and voted to go ahead solely with Volo.
Village officials had worked for two years on a deal with Volo to join the water agency, which serves 12 communities. But the process slowed after Bart took office in May 2013.
Agency officials cited those delays and demands Wauconda's representatives made during the negotiations among the reasons for the "no" vote.
Bart publicly took the blame for the village's failure and removed himself from the group that had been negotiating with the agency.
Starkey and fellow Trustee Lincoln Knight began working to repair the broken relationship with Volo and the water agency, eventually getting assistance from Village Administrator Doug Maxeiner once he was hired in the fall.
"It took members of our board to get to know Volo, and vice versa, to rebuild that relationship," Starkey said. "It was strained, to be sure."
But it's not anymore, Russell said. He believes the proposed agreement between the two towns is better than the one originally considered last year.
"In some ways, it's good that it fell apart," Russell said. "I think we understand each other better. I think we understand the need better."
Working without Wauconda since the fall, Volo had been considering connecting to CLCJAWA through Round Lake's water system. Russell said he's told Round Lake Mayor Dan MacGillis plans could change.
The new proposal calls for Wauconda and Volo to share the costs of route studies, admission fees, pipe construction and other elements.
Bart said it's important those costs don't exceed the estimates Wauconda voters were given when they approved the plan in 2012.
At the time, officials said the project would add $32 in monthly property taxes and $11 to monthly water bills for the owner of a $200,000 house with typical water use.
Despite earlier remarks from Bart that other options for Lake Michigan water were available, Wauconda officials have made it clear CLCJAWA is their top choice.
Bart is committed to partnering with Volo and CLCJAWA now, too.
"We really want to work together on this," he said.
Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik is on the CLCJAWA board and spoke strongly against Wauconda's membership last year. Bart especially drew her ire, and she's still not happy with his role in the deal's collapse.
On Monday, however, Kovarik said her agency is committed to adding Volo as a partner. If Volo wants to work with Wauconda, that's "a very good sign" for both towns, she said.
Kovarik praised Starkey and Knight for rebuilding a bridge between the town and CLCJAWA.
"They're putting the best interests of the community first, which is a good thing," she said.
The CLCJAWA board needs to think about a town's future and not "who's in office at the time," Kovarik said.
Wauconda trustees will discuss the proposal at 7 p.m. at village hall, 101 N. Main St.
If they approve the plan, Volo's board will hold a special meeting Wednesday to ratify the deal. That session would be 7 p.m. at Volo's village hall, 500 S. Fish Lake Road.