ESCANABA, Mich. (WZMQ) – On Tuesday, the Delta County Board of Commissioners debated its next steps regarding a potential “breach of contract” with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
On August 15, the Board of Commissioners approved a modification to an easement in the Cornell Forest, limiting public access. On August 11, County Administrator Ashleigh Young had emailed the DNR. Young asked if the proposed modification would affect the county’s grant agreement with the Natural Resources Trust Fund, which was used to purchase the property in 2017.
Two days after the modification was approved, the DNR grants manager said it would reduce the land’s value and “would almost certainly represent a breach of the project agreement.” However, Board of Commissioners Chairman David Moyle disagrees.
“I understand there are some people who want to make political hay out of this issue, but I think what you’re going to find out is that the county has not diminished anything,” Moyle told WZMQ 19. “We have maintained the agreement.”
The Delta Conservation District is seeking the Attorney General’s services due to a possible “conflict of interest” involving District Manager Rory Mattson. According to Conservation District Board Chair Joe Kaplan, Mattson purchased the property adjacent to the forest after negotiating the 2017 purchase on behalf of the county.
At Tuesday’s Commission meeting, Kaplan expressed his concerns about the easement modification to the board.
“Looking at the amendment to the easement agreement, there are things in there about verbal agreements,” Kaplan said. “Verbal agreements have no place in an ingress-egress easement.”
The possibility of rescinding the easement amendment was on the meeting agenda. Commissioner Bob Barron argued it was a moot point.
“It was taken care of by the board, it has been recorded, and I don’t know why we even have to have it on the agenda,” he said. “It’s a done item.”
“Even though it’s been recorded, typically when there’s ambiguous language that contradicts itself in an easement agreement, that becomes a matter for the courts,” Kaplan told the commissioners.
Commissioner John Malnar—who requested the issue be on the agenda—contacted the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) legal department prior to Tuesday’s meeting. According to MAC, the amendment could only be rescinded if nothing was signed or filed. cannot be rescinded because it was already signed and filed.
“I started digging a little farther and I found out that easement Mr. Mattson had talked about was signed that night and he filed it that morning, so we can’t rescind it,” Malnar said.
However, the Board of Commissioners has sent the DNR grant manager additional information. Moyle says they are waiting on a reply before taking any action.
“When it all comes out in the wash, I’ll bet you a steak dinner that there was no foul play going on,” he said.
According to the email the DNR grants manager sent the Delta County Administrator, a possible “remedy” to the situation would be “repayment of grant funds to the state.”
Click here for WZMQ 19’s most recent story on the Cornell easement.