Fox Lake has chance at Lake Michigan water

FOX LAKE – The faucets of Fox Lake residents still might drip Lake Michigan water after a vote last week left Wauconda out of the running, thus creating a spot for a new buyer of water services by the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency.

Darrell Blenniss, executive director of CLCJAWA, said the group ended the relationship with Wauconda because Mayor Frank Bart asked for more time to research another option for the village to secure Lake Michigan water with the Northwest Water Commission.

On Sept. 25, CLCJAWA voted, 8-1, against that wait and two days later presented Bart with the decision.

“They needed more time to evaluate for more options, but we need to keep moving forward,” Blenniss said.

He added that in the next few weeks the water group will be contacting both Fox Lake and Antioch officials to find out whether they’re still interested in working with the agency and whether they meet the financial criteria, such as being able to pay connection fees.

Both villages were once considered to be out in earlier talks because they “weren’t a geographical fit,” for the 22-mile pipe in central Lake County, Blenniss said. But after last week’s decision, “We’ll discuss with the two whether they’re in a position to be ready.”

Wauconda residents in 2012 approved a $50 million referendum to bring Lake Michigan water to the town, and officials had been working with CLCJAWA to make that happen.

Residents and trustees attended a full-house village board meeting Oct. 1 to complain about what they thought was their mayor’s fault for being kicked out of CLCJAWA.

Fox Lake Mayor Donny Schmit said he’s waiting for a call from CLCJAWA and that he’s “somewhat hoping” for that spot as a buyer. “Everyone is probably sitting back and seeing what the strategies will be. We were left out in the cold before, but now with Wauconda out, one of us is probably back in,” Schmit said, referring to Antioch, which also could be in the running.

If Fox Lake gets the chance to use Lake Michigan water, a referendum will have to be held in the village, Schmit said.

Demands for water usage in the village are already high and continue to grow each year, he said. The sand and gravel from one of the shallow wells makes the aquifer vulnerable to contamination, he said.

Schmit added that upgrades to the village’s antiquated water infrastructure were mandated by the EPA. Pipes that were put in during the 1920s and 1930s in the south end of the village need to be replaced.

Schmit said if CLCJAWA invites them to be a part of the group, those upgrades would have had to be made anyway. If not, “We’ll just continue with the shallow wells and try to replenish the aquifers,” Schmit said.

Either way, Fox Lake has raised its water rates effective Oct. 1, which will pay for the infrastructure work. “With three teenagers at home, I’m going to be one of the ones that feels it the most,” Schmit said.

For Antioch Village Administrator James Keim, the news came at a time when the village’s water supply is in good condition, he said.

“But could that change in the future? Certainly,” Keim said.

“We’re looking at every option and we’ll wait and see what happens with [CLCJAWA],” Keim said.

The massive increase of a new water rate, if the village goes to Lake Michigan water, he said, is something the board will not take lightly.

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