TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to authorize civil counsel to sue county residents, Ronald and Landa Alpers, after twice going into closed session to discuss the matter.
Kit Tholen, the board’s civil counsel, said litigation to be filed in Circuit Court would not request monetary damages but rather was for “specific performance.”
The Alpers were among a group of Boardman River-front homeowners who sued the county in 2014, following a catastrophic breach of the Brown Bridge Dam in October 2012.
Landa Alpers declined comment.
The original lawsuit spread among 60-plus homeowners for $6.3 million in damages, was decided in an out-of-court settlement which included a gag order and a non-disparagement clause.
“So that would include saying things that could portray the Alpers in a negative light,” Tholen said Wednesday. “From that previous lawsuit, there were various terms in that settlement agreement that each side had to live up to. Our contention is that Mr. and Mrs. Alpers did not live up to the terms as required.”
Tholen declined to say what those terms were or what day he planned to file the lawsuit.
“It won’t be long,” Tholen said. “They entered into this agreement, and we’re trying to wrap up the Boardman River draw-down litigation.”
Tholen acknowledged it was unusual for the county to sue private citizens and to his knowledge had not been done any other time this year.
The Boardman River litigation with the Alpers has appeared on the board’s agenda, or on the agenda of its committees, periodically since the Oct. 6 breach. It was discussed May 29, 2013 by the full board; Jan. 8 2014, by members of the Public health and safety committee; Jan. 15, 2014, by members of the resource management and administration committee.
Tholen said the county is ready to “tie up a last loose end.”
As previously reported by the Record-Eagle, engineers with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Water Resources division determined the control structure, a type of causeway through the earthen dam designed to lower the 170-acre pond behind the dam, was too short for the sandy soils upon which it sat.
Water pushed the sand out from underneath the short structure, eroded the dam and drained the pond in a matter of hours.