Outside Legal Counsel PLC

New Mandamus Lawsuit Filed Against Roscommon County Board of Commissioners on Higgins Lake Water Levels

For Immediate Release | Nov 30, 2019

For years, the Roscommon County Board of Commissioners has been operating the Cut River lake level control device to handle the outflow of water from Higgins Lake and, in turn, also managing the lake water levels of the 10,000 acre inland lake.

The results have been poor. In the summer of 2018, for example, Higgins Lake dropped nearly six inches. For those on the south end of lake, that lack of six inches means not having access to boating, docks, and other summer recreational activities.

As a result of mismanagement and a questionable interpretation of required legal responsibilities, Outside Legal Counsel PLC previously challenged Roscommon County's lake management practices via contempt of court proceedings deriving from a 1982 court order establishing the mandatory seasonal lake level. Several local Higgins Lake residents and an advocacy group, Citizens for Higgins Lake Legal Levels, through OLC's representation, filed a "show cause" motion to force Roscommon County to comply. While initially taking positive steps, the local judge later refused to act finding it lacked jurisdiction.

Now, OLC has filed a larger and more-expanded legal complaint to activate a little used court process known as a Writ of Mandamus. This process is essentially a specialized order obtained from a court against a government or its officials ordering it to properly fulfill official duties or correct abuses of discretion.

The lawsuit, captioned as Citizens for Higgins Lake Legal Levels, et al v. Board of Commissions of the County of Roscommon, asks the Roscommon County Circuit Court to now use this ancient legal process to command officials with Roscommon County to better operate and manage the levels of Higgins Lake henceforward.

But what can Roscommon County do?

In 2010, the County commissioned an engineering report to study the lake and its dam known as "Higgins Lake Level Control Structure." The engineering study concluded what was already largely and widely known: the level of Higgins Lake has averaged below the court established legal lake level during the summer months . It also found that simple alterations are needed to improve the dam's operation to enable lake levels to be maintained much closer to and with less variability from the required water level.

A key recommendation was proffered to correct the problems: installing a seasonal restrictor plate in the low flow channel to reduce the amount of flow to the Cut River in the late summer.

The County promptly ignored the professional recommendation.

As a result, millions of gallons of water are lost from Higgins Lake throughout the summer both by normal expected evaporation plus by excessive drainage of water into the Cut River. This causes annual excessively low lake levels in violation of the Lake Level Order imposed by Michigan law.

The new Mandamus lawsuit seeks to legally force the implementation of the sound and reasonable recommendations of the 2010 study and finally force the County to use best practices and available technology to properly maintain the actual level of Higgins Lake consistent with the actual ordered summer legal level each and every day of the summer time period.

A copy of the lawsuit can be downloaded here: