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Lake County water quest needs local push
By Mick Zawislak | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 7/30/2010 11:11 AM

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Community leaders will have to step up should a pending request for Lake Michigan water be approved, some Lake County Board members say.

"We need to get some mayors or trustees to really be an advocate," said county board Chairman Suzi Schmidt.

A consortium known as the Northern Lake County Lake Michigan Water Planning Group, comprised of the county and nine communities, is pursuing allocations of Lake Michigan water from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Since the quest began about four years ago, the county has coordinated efforts for the estimated $252 million plan, with research and other work funded by contributions from all parties.

But that initial seed money has run out and communities each have been asked to contribute $50,000 to continue the work, which will include legal, engineering and public education efforts, for example.

Lake County, Lindenhurst and Volo have voted to commit the funds. Antioch, Fox Lake, Lake Villa, Wauconda, Lake Zurich, Hawthorn Woods and Old Mill Creek have yet to decide.

Some communities are reluctant to commit until there is a water allocation available, as the plan is moot without that. The IDNR had been expected to decide this spring but the window was extended to the end of July, which may be optimistic.

"My guess is it may be a little bit past that," said Dan Injerd, IDNR's chief of Lake Michigan management. "Our hearing officer is working on it."

If the requests are approved, it will be up to elected officials to sell the plan idea to the public, said Peter Kolb, the county's public works director.

"Staff has taken it as far as we can take it," he said Wednesday during a discussion of the matter at the county board's public works and transportation committee.

How to pay for the system would need to be determined, with a tax hike referendum or special service areas among the possibilities. And because preliminary estimates indicate the owner of a $300,000 home could pay $426 more a year in taxes and fees for the project, public support will be critical.

But as the county's allocation request is a small part of the whole, educating the public will fall mainly to municipalities, county board members contend.

"We have some very good mayors who understand the issues. It behooves them to put some shoe leather into this," Schmidt said.

Some committee members were irked with recent comments made by Antioch officials, who last week delayed a vote on the $50,000 contribution. Village trustees cited a lack of information and leadership at the county level as to how that money would be spent.

"I don't think they understand this (Lake Michigan water) is a one-shot choice," said county board member Diana O'Kelly, who chairs the public works committee.

Committee member Bonnie Thomson Carter said the current water supply in the Antioch area may not meet demand in the future and the effort shouldn't be derailed before a public education campaign is launched.

"This is part of the problem," said County Administrator Barry Burton. "One of the communities says, `We have to get this information together,' and look at Peter (Kolb)."

Committee member Melinda Bush said it's important the public doesn't think the county is pushing the Lake Michigan water plan.

"Whoever is the lead on it should have a regional meeting," O'Kelly said. "It's worth it because it's now or never."