Water agency tells Wauconda to go elsewhere

After more than two years of negotiations, a Lake County agency that provides Lake Michigan drinking water to some suburbs told Wauconda officials Wednesday to find a different vendor.

The decision from the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency board left some Wauconda trustees visibly stunned.

That wasn't the case for Trustee Ken Arnswald, who angrily marched out of the agency's Lake Bluff headquarters and refused to answer questions before driving away.

Wauconda voters approved a $50 million plan to connect to a Lake Michigan water system in 2012. That included $41 million in loans, $9.5 million of which already have been collected.

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

Bart said he wanted to investigate all of the town's options, including joining a different water group or even continuing to use an existing well system.

A sticking point for Bart and the Wauconda board was their desire to collect recapture fees from any village that would join CLCJAWA after Wauconda and benefit from the work it does on the project.

The water agency board — consisting of mayors from the towns it serves — repeatedly rejected Wauconda's request to collect significant dollars in such a venture. It did so again Wednesday night after a brief presentation by Bart and others.

“We can't change the rules for one (town),” water group member and Lake Bluff Mayor Kathleen O'Hara said.

The water group voted 8-1 to break off talks with Wauconda. The lone holdout was Mundelein Mayor Steve Lentz, who wanted to give Wauconda 30 more days to come around.

The other group members weren't as sympathetic.

“I would not be comfortable with Wauconda as a member after this,” Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik said.

And that's really all that mattered. Adding a village to the water group requires a unanimous vote, so Wauconda was out if even one of the nine members didn't want the town aboard.

In the lobby after the vote, Bart told his trustees the town still has options, including joining the Des Plaines-based Northwest Water Commission.

“We have other options, and we'll pursue those,” Bart said.

As he left, Trustee John Barbini said he was disappointed by the vote.

“A few more weeks, I can't see how that would have hurt the process,” Barbini said. “But we have to accept the decision.”

A handful of Wauconda residents critical of the current administration, including former Mayor Mark Knigge and his wife, attended the meeting. Some jeered their trustees in the lobby of the building and in the parking lot outside, yelling, “Thanks, guys” as the board members headed to their cars.

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