Defraying dam care costs at issue

TAPIOLA – The members of the Portage Township Board of Trustees heard a report on a proposed special assessment district for the Otter Lake dam conducted Monday at the Doelle Senior Center in Tapiola.

John Pekkala, Houghton County drain commissioner, said he was elected drain commissioner about five years ago, and about one year after his election, he received a letter from Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials which stated the dam hadn’t had a safety inspection in more than 10 years, and the DNR was concerned about the safety of the structure.

“I questioned the DNR as to why should the county pay for an inspection of the dam that was built by the DNR on state-owned property,” he said.

Pekkala said he received a response from Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that the Houghton County Board of Commissioners in 1972 took action to establish a minimum water level of the lake. In 1973, the circuit court ordered the lake level. The county attorney reviewed the documents and determined failure by the county drain commissioner to maintain the minimum level constitutes misconduct in office.

“I didn’t want to cross that path, so I ordered the inspection immediately,” he said.

Pekkala said the dam was inspected last year and no deficiencies were found.

State officials agreed to do any needed maintenance on the dam, and encouraged county officials to set up a fund for any further inspections or maintenance.

Pekkala said the 1972 resolution regarding the lake level also directed the drain commissioner to establish a special assessment district to maintain the lake level.

A March 13, 2012, resolution adopted by the Houghton County Board of Commissioners confirmed and reappointed the drain commissioner as the county’s delegated authority to establish the boundaries for the special assessment district.

Pekkala said he hired engineers to draw a map of the lake for the purpose of establishing the special assessment district.

A hearing about the special assessment district is set for June 11, Pekkala said. Owners of property abutting the lake were sent a notice of the hearings.

Once the court sets the boundaries of the special assessment district, Pekkala said another hearing will be conducted to determine the assessment amount.

Costs so far for establishing the special assessment district are about $30,000, Pekkala said.

Houghton County, Portage Township and the property owners around the lake will be the interested parties of the district, Pekkala said.

“The unknown is how do we spread the cost,” he said.

In response to a question from Trustee John Ollila about the status of the Otter Lake dam, Pekkala said the county owns it.

Some property owners in the audience expressed concern about the fairness of an assessment on lakeside property owners, and there was a question about why all county residents weren’t going to be assessed, but Pekkala said he and the board of commissioners were following state law and the 1972 county resolution regarding the proposed special assessment district.

In other business, the board members:

heard from Supervisor Bruce Petersen the testing of the well water in Royalewood subdivision is mostly complete, and of the approximately 30 homes check, only four showed unacceptable levels of coliform bacteria.

approved paying up to $150 per tree to remove 19 trees from the township cemetery, which could pose a threat of falling or losing branches or limbs.

approved putting down oil for dust control on the same roads covered last year.

heard from Petersen he sent a letter to the Upper Peninsula Power Company about damage done to a sewer cover by their crews, which allowed water to get in significantly increasing the amount of money the township had to pay to the Portage Lake Water and Sewage Authority for treatment of the water.