PI Co. weighs options on dam fight

ROGERS CITY — The Presque Isle County Board of County Commissioners has asked its legal counsel to provide an opinion on whether the county should participate in mediation pertaining to a dispute about Black Lake’s lake levels.

While the majority of Black Lake falls within Cheboygan County, a little bit of the lake’s shoreline lies in Presque Isle County.

Presque Isle County commissioners on Thursday were made aware of a disagreement brewing between a group of Black Lake property owners and Black River Limited Partnership, the operators of the Alverno Hydropower Dam.

The dam is responsible for maintaining the lake’s court-ordered lake levels as part of its license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Presque Isle County Drain Commissioner Mary Ann Heidemann told commissioners one of two groups of property owners on Black Lake doesn’t believe the dam is being operated properly under the court order. She said a letter was sent to FERC saying the dam’s owners weren’t meeting their license requirements.

“Then everything exploded,” Heidemann said. “For the last year-and-a-half since, since that letter was written, there’s been a lot of fighting going on about the Alverno Dam.”

Heidemann explained that FERC has offered the parties a “dispute resolution service” and that Presque Isle County was asked if they want to participate in the phone calls.

She said she listened in on the first call, but anyone representing the county in the future would have to enter into a confidentiality agreement to participate.

Both groups of Black Lake property owners, Black River Limited Partnership, and Cheboygan County are participating in the mediation.

Heidemann told council, per the confidentiality agreement, any communications about the mediation would have to occur in closed session.

Presque Isle County board Vice Chairman Carl Altman said he didn’t want the county hung out to dry and recommended the board’s attorney, Joe Kwiatkowski, provide an opinion for the board to consider.

Compounding the issue, Heidemann told commissioners that Black River Limited Partnership plans to file for a license amendment with FERC, but haven’t done so, yet. She said they are making the case that the lake levels required by the court are damaging their equipment.

“There have also been assertions through emails that the counties ought to pay the Alverno Dam because it’s the counties job to enforce the lake levels and they ought to be paying the operator to patrol the levels,” she said.

Heidemann said a litigation team for the Alverno Dam is forming and that Presque Isle County Clerk Ann Marie Main has begun receiving emails and requests for public documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

“We may or may not be involved in any legal action that may or may not take place,” she said.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.