Dam dispute continues

News Photo by Kaitlin Ryan Recent maintenance and efforts to repair a dam in Cedar Lake has added to the workload of the Alcona County Drain Commission, as they are the authority legally delegated to maintain lake levels.

LINCOLN — County officials in Alcona have been met with resistance after discussing the possibility of a partnership between the Alcona County Drain Commission and the Cedar Lake Improvement Board for repair and maintenance at Cedar Lake.

The slow process of fixing the failing dam at the north end of Cedar Lake has been a major issue stemming from early 2016. Its disrepair could potentially cause flooding of roadways if not fixed.

With the lake spanning both Alcona and Iosco counties, a special assessment district had to be created to secure a funding source for the improvements. With about 700 parcels along the perimeter of the lake, taxpayers within the special assessment district will have to repay bonds that will be sold to fund the work, which is expected to be completed in 2019.

Because the dam is in Alcona County, the Alcona Road Commission is the acting drain commission overseeing the dam project, with Spicer Engineering doing the work.

A court order established in 1954 set the level of the lake, and the Alcona and Iosco drain commissions were delegated as the authorities to maintain that level. Fixing the dam directly relates to maintaining the lake level, officials said.

Fearing the cost of the dam repairs, the Alcona drain commission asked the Cedar Lake Improvement Board (CLIB) to help it care for the lake. However, Improvement Board officials said the board was not created for that purpose, because the 1954 court order makes it the drain commission’s responsibility to maintain lake levels.

CLIB officials said they cannot legally play any role in the major repair.

“Based on state law, we don’t see how CLIB can participate in the project,” CLIB Chairman Rex Vaughn said. “It is the exclusive jurisdiction of the drain commission. We stand at the sidelines, applauding their efforts.”

With the large project of the dam falling under the jurisdiction of the drain commission, Road Commissioner Alfred Scully said during a recent road commission meeting that he felt CLIB could play a financial role in some of the maintenance of the lake.

“The name itself, the Cedar Lake Improvement Board, would indicate to me that that’s what they’re there for,” Scully said. “However, they don’t seem to think the same as I do.”

The CLIB was formed to manage aquatic nuisance vegetation in the lake, and it has expanded to direct and manage the implementation of efforts associated with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency- and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality-approved Watershed Management Plan, according to the CLIB website. Six local officials and a private citizen make up the board.

Vaughn has said that the same state statute that prevents the CLIB from working on the dam also prevents it from using funds for anything other than what the board was set up to do.

“At the moment, we are barred to redirect any funds,” Vaughn said. “The money is for weed and lake abatement and not for any other purpose.”

Alcona County County Board of Commissioners Chairman Craig Johnston said the CLIB could potentially contract work through Alcona County’s Department of Public Works and help fund necessary maintenance at the lake.

“It shouldn’t just be our county and our drain commissioner doing this,” Johnston said.

The drain commission will come together Sept. 26 during the Department of Public Works meeting to discuss any recent developments at Cedar Lake, the dam project, and what the next step will be in the process.