Lake County Board member Bonnie Thomson Carter said she was given a $5,000 campaign donation in 2004 as a token of appreciation when she helped a nursery business gain access to Route 12.
But her challenger in the District 5 Republican primary, Kirk Denz of Ingleside, contends that the check from Wilson's Nursery was really payment for Carter ignoring the fact the nursery is dumping high concentrations of phosphorus into Fisher and Wooster lakes.
Denz, 39, is facing the four-term incumbent Carter, 52, on the Feb. 5 ballot. No Democrats have filed to run in the primary, but whoever wins the Republican contest could still face a challenge in the general election in November.
District 5 includes Fox Lake, Ingleside, Lakemoor Volo and Wauconda.
While Denz acknowledges that many nurseries use phosphorous to maintain their plants, he said in the case of Wilson's Nursery, the fertilizer is running into Fisher Lake after rainfalls. The nursery is located at 33685 N. Route 12 in Volo.
He said the runoff is one of the reasons that phosphorous levels are high on Fisher Lake. And, he added, because Fisher Lake runs into Wooster Lake, the chemicals are polluting that lake as well.
As of 2006, phosphorous levels on Fisher Lake were listed at 0.228 milligrams per liter, while levels on Wooster Lake were listed at .0663. The county average is .0630, Lake County officials said.
Mike Adam of the Lake County Health Department Lakes Management Unit said phosphorous comes from many different places and it's not likely a single nursery would be responsible for all the phosphorous in the lakes.
"We have no data to suggest that a particular nursery is contributing to the phosphorous issues," he said. "Nurseries can contribute to phosphorous levels, but so can other sources, like homeowners who use lawn fertilizer. But, we have no data suggesting its one single nursery."
Adam said Fisher is ranked 152 out of 163 lakes in Lake County on the list of smallest to highest concentration of phosphorous.
Gardeners at Wilson's Nursery said they use a standard general purpose fertilizer that contains a blend of 8 percent phosphorous chemicals.
Carter said she worked with the nursery and state Rep. Mark Beubien, a Republican from Barrington Hills, as a mediator with Illinois Department of Transportation to get a driveway built connecting the nursery to Route 12.
"I was very happy to help them and, at the same time, secure economic development for the taxpayers of District 5," she said. "It has nothing to do with what he's claiming."
Denz said the bottom line is phosphorous is being brought into the lake, nurseries are partly to blame and Carter hasn't done anything to stop it.
"She accepted this donation and turned her back on the problem," he said. "If this isn't the case and she didn't turn her back, then a plan would be in place to stop this from happening. But there isn't anything."