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Lawmakers move to eliminate Fox Waterway Agency

Published: Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 4:33 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, March 24, 2014 3:43 p.m. CDT

FOX LAKE – A pair of Lake County state senators are pushing to dissolve the Fox Waterway Agency and shift control to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The proposed legislation, sponsored by State Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, and Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, is designed to eliminate redundancies in government, Link said – an issue he has fought for years.

“If you look at my history you’ll see I’ve been an advocate for lesser government,” Link said. “The way to become more streamlined is to get rid of some of these local units of government.”

The responsibilities of the Fox Waterway Agency, such as dredging the Fox River and Chain O’ Lakes, maintaining safe recreation for water activities and promoting tourism, were handled by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources before 1983.

But Ron Barker, executive director for the agency, said the organization was created because the department of natural resources could not handle all the demands of the area. Stripping local control of the 15 lakes and more than 40 miles of river would be a step back, he said.

“When you lose local control you lose people who care about the system,” Barker said. “If you’re not doing something right, you hear about it. You lose that connection with your neighbor when you’re in Springfield.”

Barker is not alone in his opposition to the legislation. State Sen. Pamela Althoff, R-McHenry, is a former director for the agency and has said putting control in the state’s hands could have economic consequences for the area if boaters do not receive the service they have come to expect.

The Illinois Boaters Association also has expressed strong opposition to the proposal, issuing a letter from executive director David Zipp that lashes out at Link and Morrison for supporting laws that reduced local control or went against boating.

“The Fox Waterway Agency is largely self-sufficient; paying it is bills through waterway usage fees and profits off its active dredging operations,” Zipp wrote. “The Illinois Boaters Association ... questions why a self-supporting, locally elected and controlled unit of government would be so unfairly targeted when Illinois has the worst credit rating of any state in the nation.”

The first gauge on where support lies for the legislation will come Tuesday in Springfield when it is heard in the Agricultural Committee. Link said he is confident he has the support to move it pass the initial stage.

Barker said he is “gearing up for battle” in Springfield and would make the trip Tuesday. He said the outcome of that hearing and future steps would be a point of discussion at the agency’s next meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday. The meeting is open to the public and will be held at the agency at 45 S. Pistakee Road in Fox Lake.

Board chairman Wayne Blake said the agency was approved by a referendum and reapproved 10 years later with 74 percent of Lake County voters in support and 79 percent of McHenry County voters in support.

“We were created by referendum, we should die by referendum,” Barker added.

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