BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer
In a recent email to The Clarkston News, reader Mike Fetzer expressed his displeasure with the low water levels of the mill ponds.
“All of them, including the initial pond between a Bluegrass Drive and Buttercup, are in need of cleaning and dredging,” said Fetzer. “Nothing has been done to this particular Bluegrass/Buttercup pond in more than, well, at least more than seven years, and neighbors and I are wondering how our fees are being used to improve the pond behind our homes.”
“(Independence Township Supervisor) Pat Kittle and I met with (Clarkston City Manager) Jonathan Smith in the Village (early last week) and he relayed to us that he had already gotten in touch with the owner of the dam to ask that it be closed,” said Clarkston Mill Pond Improvement Board representative Rachel Lougrhin. “The owner did close it and the water levels should soon rise.”
Loughrin added that an upcoming Mill Pond Lake Board meeting will allow residents the opportunity to discuss their concerns with the board.
“WRC (Water Resources Commissioner’s Office) seems to take the position that the mill ponds dam owner owns the pond bottomlands and has exclusive rights to control water levels,” Fetzer said. “Government seems powerless. WRC seems to rely on their deed research but offers no analysis nor comprehensive explanation for their conclusions. I believe that government must consult legal experts in real estate and riparian law to determine issues attendant to mill pond ownership, including pond bottomlands and water management, the right to control water levels, and liabilities attendant to pond management.
“It seems contrary to public policy that ownership rights and exclusive control of the Clinton River bottomlands underlying the ponds and river water flowing through the mill ponds could have been properly conveyed to private ownership at any time.”
Oakland County Environmental Planner Jacy Garrison responded to Fetzer.
“Unfortunately, the WRC has no involvement in regulating water flows within the ‘Waters of the State’ unless that body of water has a court-ordered legal level,” Garrison said. “The Clarkston mill ponds does not fall within that narrow, legal parameter. The Lake Improvement Board for the Clarkston mill ponds was established solely for activities listed in its approved annual Lake Improvement Board budget. Currently, that includes nuisance aquatic plant management (surveys and treatments), goose control, permits associated with aquatic plant management and goose control, and administration and contingency.
Garrison added that the WRC is not permitted to provide legal advice on this matter.
“The early deeds provided by WRC allude to water control, but the references seem tied to operation of a now non-existent mill, and I didn’t see or comprehend how any original water control rights were initially procured or could have been properly conveyed by a private individual to another,” Fetzer said. “I am not a legal expert, but I believe government must consult legal experts to protect public and private rights, and to clarify confusion that is impacting constituents, all in a comprehensive and transparent matter. If the WRC position of exclusive private control were to be fully adopted, the dam owner could rightfully capture and dispose of every drop of water in the ponds, including that flowing in from the Clinton River, and every fish and other creature, all without government regulation of the resource.
“As you know, erratic water levels in the ponds controlled by the dam owner have been a long, longstanding source of consternation for many community property owners and residents. The ponds have silted and are choked with weeds. The conditions are worsening. What responsibility does the purported water owner have to mitigate these and other issues likely affecting pond aquatic and other wildlife, oxygenation levels and carbon dioxide production, as well as aesthetics likely affecting the property enjoyment and values of adjacent homeowners? Can’t weed and sedimentation removal and maintenance be required of the pond owner to prevent public nuisance and environmental damage? What are government’s responsibilities in the matter?”
Fetzer went on to note that heavy rains contribute to bank erosion and sedimentation as the rains pound and wash the bank soil, which is exposed by the recent inexplicable low water levels in the face of a rainy spring, and it slips into the pond.
“Is the dam owner responsible for preventing and mitigating this damage?” asked Fetzer. “I cannot determine from the WRC information whether it has concluded that the dam owner owns the bottom of this pond and its water, but the erratic water levels affect it. What plans and schedules are there to ensure the environmental, esthetic and economic viability of all the mill ponds?”