A deal still may be weeks off, but Wauconda officials and residents are celebrating a renewed effort to bring Lake Michigan drinking water to town.
"It's a very big step toward (what is) hopefully a happy ending," Trustee Ken Arnswald told the Daily Herald on Thursday, the day after the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency board unanimously voted to restart membership negotiations with the village.
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Mayor Frank Bart was similarly enthusiastic about the vote and the prospect of getting water from the Lake Bluff-based agency, even though he'd earlier voiced reservations about the plan.
"I think it's the right thing to do for the community," Bart said.
Wauconda officials want to team with neighboring Volo on a water pipeline. Both communities get drinking water from wells.
Wauconda voters in 2012 approved a $50 million plan to connect to a Lake Michigan water supply, and the central Lake County group was the preferred vendor.
But last September, the agency's board -- tired of delays and demands from Wauconda officials -- voted to end talks with the village and to move ahead with Volo. Bart took the blame from the agency, his trustees and residents.
In the months that followed, Wauconda trustees Linda Starkey and Lincoln Knight and Village Administrator Doug Maxeiner worked to rebuild a relationship with the agency.
Much of that work was done privately, leaving residents to wonder if the village would be given a second chance.
Now it has one.
"(I'm) extremely happy," said former mayor Mark Knigge, who worked on the water project during his tenure and has remained interested in it since leaving office last year.
"It is the future of Wauconda -- a clean, sustainable water supply," Knigge added.
Some Wauconda residents convened at a local restaurant Wednesday night to share their joy. Others turned to the Internet.
"(I'm) so grateful to our trustees for their hard work," resident Beth Ann Beasley said on a Facebook page dedicated to Wauconda issues.
"Best news in a long time," resident Allison Noffke Vodicka wrote at dailyherald.com.
Negotiations are able to resume now because Bart has pledged to let a trustee serve as Wauconda's representative if the town is offered membership. Most of the agency board members are mayors.
Bart's lack of involvement is critical to a deal moving forward, agency officials said before their vote.
Bart said he'll put ego aside to accomplish this goal for the village.
"It's not about me," he said. "I'm trying to do the best I can to represent the citizens."
The water agency board next meets in June. The panel's attorney, Stewart Diamond, said he hopes a deal with Wauconda can be worked out "in several weeks."
Wauconda Trustee John Barbini sounded confident a deal will be reached.
"We're going to be good partners," he said.