Water plans aren't dead, Wauconda officials say
A day after they were denied membership in a regional water agency, Wauconda officials on Thursday insisted they still intend to bring Lake Michigan drinking water to town.
"Lake Michigan water is not dead," Trustee Chuck Black said in a telephone interview. "We will pursue another option."
Trustees were crestfallen Wednesday night when the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency, which provides drinking water to 12 communities, voted 8-1 to break off talks with Wauconda after two years of negotiations.
Wauconda officials have said they're considering the Des Plaines-based Northwest Water Commission as a possible water partner.
That group now looks to be the most likely candidate for the service.
"We are actually close to the same point of the process that we were in with CLCJAWA," Mayor Frank Bart said in an email to the Daily Herald. "In many ways, this simplifies our efforts because we no longer need to plan in parallel and can focus our efforts."
In a letter posted Thursday on Wauconda's official website, members of the village's water planning team said working with the Northwest commission "has been a part of our planning process from the beginning."
"The NWC water rate is the lowest available rate, significantly lower than the CLCJAWA's water rate," the letter reads. "This will translate into savings and stability for our residents."
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 CLCJAWA. Volo now will go ahead without Wauconda.
After taking office in May, Bart said officials wanted to investigate all of the town's options, including joining a different water group or even continuing to use an existing well system.
Black said the trustees and the mayor were united in their approach and their desire for more information before choosing a provider.
"If we do not check our options completely, we are not doing our job for the constituents of the village of Wauconda," Black said.
Trustee Teri Burke took a similar stance Thursday.
"Forty-one million dollars of taxpayer dollars and future generations are at stake," she said. "This is not something we take lightly."
But it wasn't just information that was holding up the process. Trustees also were at a standoff with the agency over recapture fees, payments they wanted to collect from other towns that could join the system after Wauconda and benefit from the town's labor.
CLCJAWA officials said they weren't willing to grant such fees only to Wauconda.
The agency gave the village two deadlines this summer. Bart and the trustees instead asked for more time to weigh their options.
It was clear at Wednesday's meeting that CLCJAWA board members had grown weary of waiting for Wauconda to sign on the dotted line.
"The train is ready to leave the station," member and Libertyville Mayor Terry Weppler said during the session in Lake Bluff. "I'm not willing to wait for them."
Bart, all six trustees and other village representatives attended the meeting.
Trustee Linda Starkey said she didn't expect the CLCJAWA board would vote to cease negotiations. She said she was there to support continued discussions and felt "blindsided" by Bart and the other members of the village's planning team.
"It wasn't the meeting that we were prepared for at all," Starkey said.
Had they known a "no" vote was possible Wednesday, Starkey said she and other trustees would have called for a vote before the final deadline this month.
She believes a resolution to go with CLCJAWA would have passed "very quickly."
"I take responsibility, too," Starkey said. "In retrospect, we all should have been more involved and more vocal about that."