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Michigan Drain Law

Michigan Drain Law

Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes PLC serves as General Counsel and Legislative Counsel for the Michigan Association of County Drain Commissioners, as well as counsel to more than 40 individual county drain commissioners and water resources commissioners across Michigan.  Stacy Hissong leads our Drain Law Team, and aside from providing legal services, has testified to the Legislature about drain related issues, and presented at conferences for the Michigan Wetlands Association and Michigan Association of County Drain Commissioners on various water law topics involving drainage, inland lakes and streams, wetlands, and floodplains.  The attorneys at Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes PLC are uniquely qualified to assist our clients with a variety of public infrastructure projects.

Drain Code Experience

Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes PLC has a wide range of skill in the areas of municipal law and more specifically, the Michigan Drain Code. Ms. Hissong recently argued before the Michigan Supreme Court on its first Drain Code case in nearly twenty years.  Our Municipal Law Team has developed their proficiency by working on county and intercounty drain projects, including issues relating to:

  • Drain Code Procedure
  • Boards of Determination
  • Boards of Review
  • Property/Easement Acquisition
  • Intergovernmental Agreements
  • Property Owner/Service Agreements
  • Construction Codes

Lake Levels and Lake Improvement Boards

Our Municipal Law Team has a wealth of experience relating to Michigan's inland lakes, and are frequent presenters on topics related to lake levels and lake improvement boards throughout the state.  The attorneys at Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes PLC have represented drain commissioners, townships, lake improvement boards, and lake associations on a variety of matters, including:

Part 307 of NREPA (Inland Lake Levels)

  • Setting and revising established lake levels
  • Setting special assessment district boundaries
  • Property/easement acquisition
  • MDEQ permit issues
  • Appeals
  • County board resolutions for maintenance and improvements

Part 309 of NREPA (Lake Improvement Boards)

  • Petitions to establish board
  • Improvement petitions and resolutions
  • Special Assessment Rolls
  • Project Scope hearings
  • Michigan Tax Tribunal Appeals

Act 188 (Township Improvements)

  • Resolutions to establish special assessment district
  • Intergovernmental agreements
  • Public hearings
  • Property acquisition
  • Michigan Tax Tribunal Appeals

Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes PLC attorneys are highly qualified in lake matters.  We pride ourselves on responsiveness and efficiency, because we, as municipal law attorneys, understand the importance of a completed lake project to riparians and the surrounding community.

Private Drainage Disputes

Drainage problems on private land can cause headaches, emotional responses, stress, and the loss of productive land and crops. The attorneys at Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes PLC provide unparalleled ability and responsiveness to ensure private drainage rights are enforced and private drainage problems are resolved. Our Drain Law team has unmatched experience in Michigan solving private drainage disputes. Whether the solution calls on our close relationships with engineers and contractors, our negotiation techniques, or litigation--we obtain real results. Efficiently. Economically.

Understanding your rights and responsibilities as a private property owner can be challenging. Landowners should be aware of the potential risks and liabilities they can face when dealing with property rights of a neighbor. Basic elements of some of the most common issues are described below. This communication is not legal advice. Consult an attorney to determine how the information applies to any specific situation.

  • Natural Drainage: Michigan courts rely on common law to resolve disputes related to drainage. Michigan's "Natural Flow Doctrine" states that if your property is at a higher elevation than your neighbor's, the water that falls on your property most likely flows over your neighbor's land. You have a right to continue this natural flow, and your neighbor has a duty to not interfere with it.
  • Prescriptive Easements: A prescriptive easement is a property right in another's land that gives the bearer a legal right to continue to use the land in the same manner. This will give you certain rights against your neighbor if he or she attempts to block that use. You may have a prescriptive easement if:
    • Your neighbor has not given you permission to use his or her land in a certain way;
    • The "use" does not need to exclude your neighbor from using his or her property; and
    • The "use" is uninterrupted for at least 15 years.
  • Tresspass/Nuisance: Whenever you enter your neighbor's property for any reason, be sure to have permission and clarify the purpose and scope of what you will be doing on his or her land.  Many unnecessary disputes arise from not seeking permission or exceeding or misunderstanding the permission granted.  Nuisance is similar to trespass, but instead of a physical intrusion, a nuisance is interfering with a person's use and enjoyment of their land.  An example of a nuisance is the pollution of groundwater.  If a river runs over your land, you and your neighboring properties have a responsibility to not pollute the water.  You may be liable for any damage that occurs to a neighboring property, and vice versa.
  • Costs of Property Damage: If a person willfully and voluntarily entered another's land and damaged or cut down trees or removed any soil, that person may be liable for up to three times the amount of actual damages caused.  To avoid this, be sure to:
    • Clearly identify, in writing, the amount and location of any work that will be done; and
    • Do not exceed the boundaries of the agreement, even if it would be in the best interest of your neighbor, until you get permission in writing.

MDEQ Permit Issues

Understanding Michigan's unique environmental regulations is essential to a successful public infrastructure project.  We frequently assist and counsel clients with issues involving permits relating to inland lakes and streams, wetlands, and floodplains.  Our attorneys have also provided training to engineers, public officials, and staff relating to exemptions, permit requirements, and interpretations of Michigan's Natural Resources Environmental Protection Act, and have assisted our clients with administrative appeals and circuit court actions relating to permits.

For more information about our drain law legal services, please contact us today and ask for a member of our Drain Law Team.

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