2017-05-18 / Front Page

County seeks Gulliver dam ownership

After securing deed, grant will be sought for approximately $71K repair

MANISTIQUE – Schoolcraft County will become the owner of the Gulliver Lake Dam in order to pursue funding to fix the structure. The issue was discussed during a recent meeting of the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners.

According to Commissioner Craig Reiter, a 1957 11th Judicial Circuit Court order stipulates that Schoolcraft County must maintain the water level of Gulliver Lake using the Gulliver Lake Dam. Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Quality reports also state that the county must maintain lake levels.

Another report, from the Upper Peninsula Environmental Association, also emphasizes the importance of lake level maintenance.

“It’s quite lengthy and it’s very comprehensive,” explained Reiter. “(It states) what’s happening with the dam, their estimate on how long they feel it will last, its imminent failure. When this report was done a year ago, they had given the dam three years – so we’re a year into the pending disaster of the dam.”

Reiter added that the UPEA estimated the replacement cost of the dam to be approximately $71,300. He also pointed out that the Schoolcraft County Road Commission Manager Brad Stauffer, who also serves as the county’ drain commissioner, has said that he is “very concerned” with the current status of the dam.

“If it does fail, it’s going to take out a portion of County Road 434, because the culvert that goes underneath the road will be inundated and it would completely take out the road,” said Reiter. “They’re (the road commission) asking us, nicely, to do something about it, because they don’t want to have the expense of having to repair a road that they normally would not have to repair.”

Reiter went on to explain that the county performed a title search on the dam last year to determine who owns the dam.

“We discovered that we didn’t own it and Doyle Township did not own it,” he said, adding that resident had recorded a quit claim deed for the dam in 1925. “That’s the last movement on that piece of property.”

According to Reiter, the Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Regional Commission currently has a grant available to cover the cost of updating the dam. The grant would require a 10 percent match from the county – approximately $7,100.

During its last meeting, the Doyle Township Board agreed to contribute $2,500 toward the county’s match for the grant.

“Which is very nice of them because, legally, they’re not responsible or have to,” said Reiter. “They’re looking after their community.”

He recommended via motion that the county board hire the local law firm of Herbert and Wood to “quiet the title on the dam” to allow the county to then apply for the CUPPAD grant. Reiter added that the resident last associated with the dam’s ownership is now deceased.

Commissioner Dan Hoholik seconded the motion and then asked who has been maintaining the dam and performing tri-annual inspections. Reiter answered that the county has been paying for the inspector.

Doyle Township Supervisor Lynn Norton noted that the person maintaining the dam – opening and closing the dam’s gate as needed – does so on a volunteer basis. She added that the township has an easement to cross the property adjacent to the dam in order to perform this maintenance.

Commissioner Larry Mersnick questioned if the county would have to obtain ownership of the dam in order to receive grant funding.

“Personally, I don’t want to inherit the dam,” he said.

Reiter explained that quieting the title would equate to the county taking possession of the dam.

“We’re going to get it (the dam) regardless,” he said. “Even if we don’t own the property, we are still liable to repair the damage.”

Commissioner Chris Rantanen noted that the board has not received a legal opinion on whether or not it would be responsible to update the dam.

“This is why it keeps getting kicked around, because whoever decides they’ve got that property (that the dam sits on) is ultimately going to be responsible for that dam,” she said. “What happens if the grant doesn’t come through … then who’s going to pay for the dam? If we go ahead and say that we want a quiet title and we want that, then guess who’s going to be responsible for it?”

Reiter explained that since the owner is deceased, the county has not been able to send a tax bill for the property, and that it will be up for foreclosure in three years, meaning that it will become the county’s unless it is sold in the foreclosure sale.

Norton pointed out that the property was only recently placed on the tax roll, in March, and that it hadn’t been there for 52 years.

“So it was actually put on the roll so then it can be foreclosed on and taken off the roll?” Rantanen questioned. Norton answered that was correct.

Rantanen then asked if the Gulliver Lake (Landowners) Association would be interested in taking on ownership of the dam.

Norton explained the association has extremely limited funds.

“We don’t have $71,000,” she said. “They talk about just the property owners, but there’s 600 feet on Gulliver Lake that is available to everybody in the county. There’s a boat launch that’s available to everybody in the county. It’s not just the owners on Gulliver Lake.”

Rantanen pointed out that she is wary of the county taking ownership of the dam and incurring any and all future costs, especially if the grant is not received.

“We have responsibility for all the dams in the county,” Reiter replied. “We have spent a lot of money on the Carpenter Dam (Indian Lake) … we have traditionally fixed all the dams in Schoolcraft County. This is not something just for the Doyle dam.”

Rantanen countered that the county takes care of the other dams because those are owned by the county, whereas the county does not own the Gulliver Lake Dam.

“Why would you be willing to take on this liability when everyone else out there is saying we don’t want it?” she said.

Reiter said the county can’t maintain the water levels of the lake, as court ordered, if the dam is not functioning.

Rantanen explained that if the county became an owner of the dam, it could issue a special assessment on Gulliver Lake property owners to help pay for the repairs.

Chairperson Allan Ott suggested contacting the previous landowner’s heirs, if any, to obtain the property rather than obtaining an attorney to quiet the deed. Reiter said the attorney would contact the heirs and quiet the deed only if needed.

Commissioners Mersnick and Rantanen voted “no” on Reiter’s motion to obtain the deed for the dam and pursue the grant to repair it. Ott, Hoholik, and Reiter voted “yes”. The motion passed.

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An excellent job on this

An excellent job on this article, easy to understand and well written