Replacing the dam at Murphy Lake is going to cost $845,000.

The Tuscola County Board of Commissioners voted Thursday to approve the sale of bonds to fund the work, with those who live in the lake area to pay off half of the bonds over the coming 15 years.

County drain commissioner Bob Mantey told the commissioners there had been a two-hour special assessment hearing two days prior to the commission meeting. Forty-eight people signed in and 100-plus people filed written protests to the project. The assessments were levied against 170 parcels around the lake.

‘The number one thing was that they wanted us to wait for grants and to delay the project,” Mantey said. “The only grants that have been out there for years have been to remove dams, not to repair them.”

In light of the failure of dams that drained two Midland County lakes last year, Mantey said there is pending legislation that might change that.

“I imagine there will be a lot of strings attached to that,” Mantey said. “(The state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy) DEGLE is under the gun after the Midland dams failed, which came after we petitioned for this project.”

Some of the protests were over the interest rate, which the bond market will set. Some questioned the 15-year payback term, but Mantey said that is what the bond counsel recommended. Some also questioned how the assessments were set and that also was explained. Of the protests, four assessments were changed because of calculation errors.

Lots with lake frontage are being assessed $1,600 to $2,000 while the back lots without lake frontage will be paying about $500 to $600. Some residents own more than one frontage lot and are paying more. The county’s drains-at-large account will pay $253,500, 30 percent of the project. Millington Township will pay $126,750, or 15 percent of the overall cost. Watertown Township will pay $42,250, five percent of the cost. The state Department of Natural Resources, which owns about half of the lakefront property, is being assessed more than $193,000.

“It is quite a chunk,” Mantey said, “and I doubt that they are going to pay it (all at once). I think they are just going to let it go. Every drain commissioner I’ve talked to said the DNR has never paid up-front. I don’t think they would in this case either.”

The county, which owns the dam, could buy the bonds used to fund the work, Mantey told the commissioners. The county then could collect the interest, estimated at 3.5 percent. The county has until July 19 to make a decision on whether or not to buy the debt.

“That certainly is something to consider,” District 5 Commissioner Dan Grimshaw said. “But first we have to look at it.”

The construction will cost $511,516, but the additional costs – legal expenses, administrative costs, bond counsel fees, etc. – add another $94,072. Another 12 percent contingency adds $91,673 to the total.

Some of the work already has begun. Mantey said a temporary road has been built across county property to allow equipment and materials in to work on the dam. The road, even though some lake residents want to keep it, will be removed once the project is finished. The state DEGLE won’t allow the road to remain.

As of now, Mantey said, the boat launch, which is beside the dam, won’t be touched. The boat launch does not include parking for those using it.

“At one time we were going to add parking to the project,” Mantey said, “but the (lake) association asked me not to – I think they didn’t want any loitering at the dam — so we took the parking out (out of the plans).”

Murphy Lake was one of three small lakes interconnected by Goodings Creek, part of the Cass River system, when a dam built in the 1850s enlarged it. The current dam, installed in the early 1930s, allowed Murphy Lake to grow to 209 acres and envelope smaller Net and Robins lakes. The level of the lake is altered twice each year – in the spring and the fall – by installing by hand boards that change the height of the dam.

District 4 Commissioner Doug DuRussel said he understands the assessments might be an issue for those on a fixed income, but this work needs to be done.

“My biggest concern,” said DuRussel, whose district includes the lake, “is how the dam is raised and lowered is a liability issue and the danger it would be for someone to drown while either handing the boards out, or taking the boards or putting the boards in.”

He said the county also would be liable if the dam were to give way and cause environmental damage downstream. So would the lake district, Mantey said.

“You might not lose a life – and I don’t think they did lose any lives in Midland – but the amount of money for the environmental impact was huge, to clean up and the fisheries impact,” Mantey said.

The last assessment for work done at Murphy Lake came in 1997-98 and it was small, spread over just three years. “I don’t even know if there was interest, it was so small,” Mantey said.