HOUGHTON - Houghton County Board of Commissioners members said their hands are legally tied concerning Twin Lakes residents' request to temporarily reinstall a bar regulating the water level at the lake.
The county cannot legally install the bar until an engineering study has been completed, Houghton County Drain Commissioner John Pekkala told residents Tuesday.
Richard Krupp, a property and business owner in Twin Lakes, presented a petition with signatures from 101 property owners - about 95 percent of the affected parties.
Krupp said a 14-foot-wide, 4-foot-high bridge had been built across the Misery River in 1998, but had been determined to let too much water out of the lake.
In response, he said, the county drain commissioner, the township supervisor and residents at the time decided to install a 6-inch rail in late May to hold back some water to be released in late July and August when water levels were low.
"In late July and August, the water levels would drop and so people's docks were on dry land," he said. "The channels between the three lakes got to the point where you couldn't navigate them anymore."
The rail practice was followed for 14 years, Krupp said. He said he would measure the water level himself and contact the drain commissioner when the level grew to be a problem, usually installing the bar in May and taking it back out in October.
Krupp said landowners would be willing to abide by whatever the circuit court eventually decides the water level should be.
"For this one year, so we don't lose all our water, we're asking if we can put the bar back in," he said.
Pekkala said the board made a motion to install the rail at a meeting in 1997.
About a month later, the county prosecutor sent a letter to the board instructing it the rail could not be installed by a vote of the board. Instead, there has to be a formal process.
Chair Albert Koskela and Commissioner Tim Palosaari asked if the board could look the other way for the year and not interfere with the bar.
"Until this gets resolved, can't they just deal with it?" Palosaari said.
Pekkala said if the bar were installed and a landowner was found to be adversely affected, the county could be found liable.
"Anything can happen in front of a jury," he said.
Resident Mike Hubert said a recent study showed the lake to be in good shape.
However, he said, a lower lake level would jeopardize the waterfront areas, which is one of the biggest stressors on a lake's health.
"It could be devastating to our fish, our small critters that run around in there," he said.
Other commissioners said they sympathized with the residents, but were bound by the law.
"We don't have any choice but to follow the law, so I don't think we have any choice but to go through the procedure," said Commissioner Anton Pintar.
In other action, the board:
heard a presentation from Jim Klutts, director of the Houghton County Department of Veteran's Affairs.
appointed Courtney Hohnholt to the Department of Veterans Affairs commission.
approved putting upgrades for the courthouse and Sheriff's Department phone system out to bid. If 20 phone lines can be eliminated in the upgrade, the work will pay for itself within 26 months, said Controller Eric Forsberg.
approved a resolution imposing the 2013 summer tax levy.
approved moving the October meeting to Oct. 8.
tabled an inter-local agreement with the Alliance Board.