Organizations Around Sanford Lake

By Bill Gebo, SLA Board Director

In addition to the Sanford Lake Association, there are various other entities at work around the lake dealing with a range of lake-specific issues. These organizations often cooperate with each other to carry out their different tasks. The flood and loss of the lake on May 19 has changed the roles of each of these organizations in ways they are all still coming to terms with.

Lake Improvement Boards are an arm of county government that are created and operate under provisions of Part 309 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act of 1994 (or it’s predecessor Public Act 345 of 1966). Under the statutes, lake improvement boards have a wide latitude of things they may become involved in, such as watershed management, weed control, water testing, erosion control, dam maintenance, and other similar activities. For Sanford Lake, the Sanford Lake Improvement Board (SLIB), created in 1975, has focused its work on the control of aquatic weed growth in the lake. The composition of lake improvement boards is determined by law, and includes a member of the County Board of Commissioners, a representative of each local unit of government abutting the lake, the County Drain Commissioner, and a riparian property owner (a four year term). 

To take on a project, say weed control, the board must hold a public hearing that reviews the feasibility, the budget, and the special assessment district. After the hearing, the board makes the decision whether to proceed or not. If the project is approved, a second hearing is held to hear any objections to the assessment roll. After the second hearing, the board may proceed with the project. Weed control projects typically have a multi year timeframe with a multi year budget. The weed control project for the SLIB is normally four years in length, after which the hearing process must take place again to cover the subsequent period. 

SLIB (or its contractors) is responsible to outline its projected program for each lake season with the state and get a permit for the types of chemicals and amounts it expects to use. The SLIB retains contractors through an open bidding process and the contracts are normally for multi year periods. The SLIB retains under contract a registered professional engineering firm with an aquatic biology practice. This engineer acts on behalf of SLIB to sample the lake for weed growth, type and location, and sets up a treatment plan ahead of each treatment. After the treatment, the engineer samples again to determine its effectiveness. There are normally about three treatments a season, along with retreatments of areas that were resistant to the prior treatment. 
Originally, the SLIB was responsible for the weed control program for the entire lake, with the village of Sanford, and both Jerome and Edenville Townships having representatives on the board. In the year 2007, the township of Edenville decided to withdraw from the SLIB and set up its own weed control program for that part of the lake within its boundaries.


In 2007, Edenville set up its weed control program under the Township Special Assessment Act, PA 188, as amended in 1994. Under the amended act, individual townships may establish certain lake improvement projects such as weed control. PA 188 projects are managed under the existing township board and allow for the establishment of a special assessment district to finance the project. PA 188 also requires two public hearings as are required for lake improvement boards. In 2015, Edenville, with some facilitation from Sanford Lake Association, contracted with PLM Lake Management (PLM) to handle their weed treatments. PLM also is the contractor doing the same for SLIB and so various cost and scheduling efficiencies were able to be realized. 


Sanford Lake Preservation Association was formed in early 2011 following the drawdown of the lake by Boyce Hydro in August of 2010 for repairs to the dam. After the water level was down four feet, Boyce indicated that they did not have the money to complete the repairs and said the lake level would remain down until the money could be found. Various organizations approached by Boyce, including Sanford Lake Association and the Sanford Lake Improvement Board, were not in a position to support this effort. SLPA was able to provide the funding to complete the repairs so the lake level could be restored by the spring of 2011.

Concurrently, Boyce was in a property tax dispute with Midland County over 27 parcels that make up the lake bottom, and in March of 2010, the county foreclosed on the parcels and took the lake bottom into ownership by the county. As stipulated in the operating license for Sanford Lake, Boyce needed to control the flowage over the lake bottom by either owning it or leasing it. The county and Boyce could not reach an agreement on a lease back of the lake bottom and so in July of 2015, after two years of negotiations, SLPA reached an agreement with both parties wherein SLPA would buy the bottomlands from the county and have a flowage rights agreement with Boyce. In 2015, SLPA was restructured as a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. While the legal structure remains in place, SLPA ceased to operate using its name in 2018.


In September of 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) revoked Boyce’s license to produce power at the Edenville dam due to ongoing regulatory noncompliance. This led to discussions amongst SLA, SLPA, and representatives from Wixom, Secord and Smallwood lakes, after which a Memorandum of Understanding was executed that became the basis for the creation of the Four Lakes Task Force (FLTF). The legal entity of SLPA was used and repurposed doing business as FLTF, a nonprofit 501(c)3 corporation. FLTF later became the entity delegated the authority by both Midland and Gladwin Counties to acquire, repair, and operate the dams on behalf of the two counties.
In May of 2019, the Midland County Circuit Court judge, also acting for the Gladwin County Circuit Court, signed the Lake Level Order establishing the legal lake levels for all four lakes, confirmed the Special Assessment District for the four lakes, and recognized FLTF as the Counties’ Delegated Authority. FLTF works on behalf of the two counties, under a three party agreement, in accordance with Part 307 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451.