Wauconda, Volo clear big hurdle in quest for Lake Michigan water

Wauconda's quest for Lake Michigan drinking water has cleared a major hurdle, prompting celebrations among village officials and residents.

"It's a beautiful day in Wauconda," said Trustee Linda Starkey, a key player on the team that's been negotiating an agreement with the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency. "With the security of a long-term, safe and sustainable water supply, we can confidently look decades forward and see a stronger, brighter future."

The water agency board on Wednesday unanimously agreed to offer membership to Wauconda and Volo.

The municipal boards of the towns served by the regional agency must now individually approve their membership, but officials don't expect that will be an issue.

"Hopefully that will be complete by the December meeting," said Wauconda Trustee Lincoln Knight, who also was part of the negotiation team.

It's a 180-degree turnaround for Wauconda, which in September 2013 was snubbed by the water agency board and told to look elsewhere for drinking water because of conflicts with Mayor Frank Bart. Volo's membership wasn't jeopardized by that decision.

Starkey, Knight, Village Administrator Doug Maxeiner and others spent much of the last year trying to rebuild a relationship with the agency and regain the members' trust. Volo officials were part of that effort, too, and Starkey voiced appreciation for everyone's work Thursday.

"Getting to where we are now has been a team effort on the part of the past and current boards, staff and our counterparts in Volo and at CLCJAWA," Starkey said.

Volo Mayor Burnell Russell said he never gave up on the plan.

"It's taken a lot of time, but when good people work together, they get a good answer," he said.

The agency's executive director, Darrell Blenniss Jr., said adding Wauconda and Volo to the group makes sense because of the towns' proximity to the other member communities, and because of their need for safe drinking water.

"Each of our members understand the importance of Lake Michigan water," Blenniss said.

Some Wauconda residents cheered Wednesday's vote on Facebook.

"For generations, people's lives will be positively impacted by the fact that people serving this community decided to truly look long term and bring Lake Michigan Water to Wauconda," Beth Ann Beasley wrote.

"Today is a day to celebrate and give thanks," added resident Tim Howe.

Once all the local resolutions are received by the water agency, Wauconda and Volo will be seated at the group's dais as participants.

The towns will become full members with the ability to vote on issues once they've invested $5 million in the project, Starkey said.

Nearly all of the representatives on the CLCJAWA board are mayors. Because of their distaste for Bart, they insisted Wauconda choose someone else to be the town's representative on the panel if offered membership.

When the time comes, Knight will be the town's envoy.

Construction on the water system extension could begin in 2016 and be completed in summer 2018, officials have said.

"While the legislative phase is nearing a conclusion, we still have a tremendous amount of work ahead," Maxeiner said.

Volo and Wauconda get drinking water from local wells, but concerns about sustainability and safety drove officials to pursue lake water.

Wauconda voters in 2012 approved a $50 million plan to connect to a Lake Michigan water system. Volo officials didn't have to bring their funding plan for a new water system to voters.

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