Wauconda vote to join regional water agency set for Tuesday

Wauconda trustees on Tuesday could approve a long-awaited agreement to join a regional group that will provide Lake Michigan drinking water to the community.

The vote to partner with neighboring Volo and join the Lake County Joint Action Water Agency is an important - but not final - step in a process that was nearly derailed a year ago.

"Based on the history of this project, it is a bit of a relief that we are able to get final versions of the agreements to the various boards for consideration with a real opportunity to get it done," Wauconda Village Administrator Doug Maxeiner said. "This has been a true team effort between the staff at Wauconda, Volo and CLCJAWA, as well as the multitude of elected officials for the various entities."

The meeting is set for 7 p.m. at village hall, 101 N. Main St.

Volo trustees could ratify the deal Oct. 21, Maxeiner said.

If the two village boards approve the agreement, the nine-member water agency board is the next hurdle. It must vote to offer the towns membership, as must the village boards its members represent.

The water agency board could vote on the plan Oct. 22, Maxeiner said. The individual member boards would vote afterward, which could take until early December, he said.

Wauconda Trustee Lincoln Knight has been part of the team negotiating with the water agency for the village's potential membership. He said he's "happy and excited" the village and the agency are at this point.

"We have worked diligently together on this project for a long time, and I believe it's a win-win for all involved," Knight said. "Wauconda will soon be able to have a clean, sustainable water source that will benefit everyone."

If Wauconda joins the water agency, Knight will serve as the town's representative on the panel.

Mayors typically serve as the emissaries, but the water agency board members criticized Wauconda Mayor Frank Bart's actions during negotiations last year and explicitly said they wouldn't allow Wauconda to join if he was the representative. Bart took himself out of consideration for the post earlier this year.

Trustee Linda Starkey will be Knight's backup.

Wauconda voters in 2012 approved a $50 million plan to connect to a Lake Michigan water system, and Lake County Joint Action Water Agency was the town's preferred provider from the start.

But two years of negotiations slowed down after Bart was elected in April 2013. He said he wanted to investigate all of the town's options, including joining a different water group or even sticking with the existing well system.

That hesitation and other factors led the Lake County Joint Action Water Agency board to stop negotiating with Wauconda in September 2013. It moved ahead with Volo.

Knight, Starkey and Maxeiner spent months trying to bring the two sides back together, and negotiations restarted this spring.

"This was a team effort between Wauconda, Volo and CLCJAWA, and it took a lot of phone calls and meet-ups for deeper trusts to be established and a spirit of partnership to take root over time," Starkey said. "Cooperation was what brought this deal together."

If Wauconda joins the water agency, an engineering study for a pipe route would be the next step, Maxeiner said. Construction could begin in 2016 and be completed in summer 2018, he said.

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