A years-long fight over lake levels in Roscommon County hit a precedent-setting mark.
The citizens for Higgins Lake legal levels won in the court of appeals against the Roscommon County Board of Commissioners.
Their claim is that the board is not doing all they legally can to raise the lake levels in Higgins Lake during the summer months.
In 1982, the Roscommon County Circuit Court established the legal lake levels for the summer and winter seasons on Higgins Lake.
“Back in 2010, the Roscommon County Board of Commissioners hired the Spicer Engineering Group to provide recommendations on improving the lake levels because there were a lot of complaints that the new lake level patrol structure in 2007 was not maintaining the legal levels,” said Citizens for Higgins Lake Legal Levels President Eric Ostergren.
In 2012, the Citizens for Higgins Lake Legal Levels was formed, after they say legal levels were still not maintained.
“[The Board of Commissioners] enacted a…resolution requiring 2/3rds of the lakefront owners to petition them and pay them $10,000 before they look at changing the dam on Higgins,” said Ostergren. “That’s what you need to do to establish a legal lake level, not to maintain a legal lake level.”
Ostergren said by statute, the Board of Commissioners are required to ask for a permit change from associations like the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy to help maintain the legal levels.
He said the board received information from Spicer Engineering, and other information from citizens on Higgins Lake to help maintain levels.
“They did nothing, absolutely nothing,” said Ostergren. “The lawsuit was filed shortly after they passed that resolution, because it was clear to us that they were not going to do anything.”
The lawsuit went to the Roscommon County Circuit Court, but was dismissed.
The Citizens for Higgins Lake Legal Levels took the lawsuit to the Michigan Court of Appeals, where that dismissal was overturned.
“What the Court of Appeals found was that the commissioners have a duty to maintain the legal level, and that they breached that duty,” said Ostergren. “What that means is they need to do things within their power to maintain that legal level.”
Ostergren said this ruling sets a precedent for other groups looking to maintain their own lake levels.
“All of the levels that have been established by the court systems need to maintained at that legal level,” he said. “This will allow other groups that want the legal levels maintained, this will give them the precedence to do that, to take that to court and tell their local commissioners that that has to be done.”
The Roscommon County Board of Commissioners said they are not able to comment at this time.
They have 45 days to respond to the appeals court decision, which could send the case to the Michigan Supreme Court.