Outside Legal Counsel PLC

Judge Orders Roscommon County to Maintain Lake Levels Set by 1982 Decree

For Immediate Release | Apr 26, 2024

History has finally been forced to correctly repeat itself.

After nearly five years of litigation and forging a new legal path for inland lake level management enforcement, the Roscommon County Circuit Court awarded a declaratory judgment commanding that it is "the legal and ministerial duty" of Roscommon County's Board of Commissioners to maintain the water level of Higgins Lake at the level(s) previously established within a 1982 lake level judicial decree.

For over a decade, the local Roscommon County government has been operating the Cut River lake level control device controlling the outflow of water from Higgins Lake and, in turn, also dictating the regular water level of the 10,000-acre inland lake.

In October 2019, Outside Legal Counsel PLC filed suit on behalf of the non-profit group "Citizens for Higgins Lake Legal Level" and various homeowners and property owners to challenge Roscommon County's poor lake management practices including the failure maintain sufficient lake-water levels set by a 1982 order under what is now the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act.

For those on the south end of the lake, that lack of needed depth means not having access to boating, docks, and other summer recreational activities.

Data from the United States Geological Survey has confirmed that lake-water levels in the summer months were regularly below the court-ordered levels, sometimes as much as nearly ninety percent (90%) of the time.

Despite originally deciding that Roscommon County had unreviewable discretion in its lake management practices, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed adopting OLC's arguments confirming that the 1,154.11-ft above-sea level "was the lake level that [Roscommon County] was required to maintain in the summer months" and by failing to maintain that level "it has violated that duty." A later appeal by the government to the Michigan Supreme Court was unsuccessful.

"We are pleased with the action ordered by the local court in finally confirming what concerned citizens have been saying all along--that Higgins Lake's management practices must comply with Michigan law," states Philip L. Ellison, the OLC attorney handling the case. "This is a key step in this long-running litigation."

The case has been referred to mediation for additional work on resolving the balance of the case.

Outside Legal Counsel PLC is a Michigan law firm that specializes in property and water rights litigation. Handling disputes and matters involving easements, docks, and land boundaries, OLC represents land, home, and cabin owners throughout Michigan. More information is available at www.olcplc.com.