The following opinion is presented on-line for informational use only and does not replace the official version. (Mich Dept of Attorney General Web Site - www.ag.state.mi.us) STATE OF MICHIGAN
FRANK J. KELLEY, ATTORNEY GENERAL
HIGHWAYS AND ROADS:
Authority of county to provide emergency assistance on private roads
A county road commission is authorized to use its resources to provide emergency assistance to township ambulance personnel on private roads.
Opinion No. 6975
March 25, 1998
Honorable John Gernaat
Lansing, MI 48909
You have asked whether a county road commission is authorized to use its resources to provide emergency assistance to township ambulance personnel on private roads.
Information supplied with your request indicates that township ambulance personnel requested a county road commission to spread sand upon an ice-covered private road to make it passable by an ambulance transporting a patient in need of emergency medical care. Because of a combination of icy conditions and the slope of the private road, the ambulance was unable to traverse the private road so as to reach a connecting county road. The request for assistance was denied because the private road was not under the jurisdiction of the road commission.
The statutory authority of a county road commission to maintain roads extends only to roads "'under its control.'" OAG, 1947-1948, No O-5183, p 100 (November 7, 1946). The Legislature has provided for the classification of all public roads, streets and highways, by enacting the state trunk line highway system act, 1951 PA 51, MCL 247.651 et seq; MSA 9.1097(1) et seq. Section 2 of that act establishes "county primary roads" and section 4 establishes "county local road[s]" within the jurisdiction of a county road commission. Neither of these statutes, however, includes private roads as being within the jurisdiction of a county road commission. Moreover, the activity you describe involves emergency services rendered by a county road commission which cannot be characterized as the maintenance of a road.
1851 PA 156, MCL 46.1 et seq; MSA 5.321 et seq, defines the powers and duties of the county boards of commissioners. Section 11(q) authorizes county boards of commissioners to establish "rules and regulations in . . . the interest . . . of the county, as the board considers necessary and proper in all matters not especially provided for . . . under the laws of this state." A board of county commissioners, in the discharge of its responsibilities, could delegate to the county road commission the duty to provide emergency road-clearing assistance to county residents living on private roads. Such a delegation is contemplated by the county road law, 1909 PA 283, MCL 224.1 et seq; MSA 9.101 et seq, which mandates that boards of county road commissioners carry out "the performance of official duties imposed by law [for the maintenance of county roads] and delegated by the county board of commissioners." Section 9(2).
Even in the absence of an express delegation by a county board of commissioners, county road commission personnel may take action using resources at their disposal for the public interest in an emergency situation, subject to the direction of their supervisors and within the limits of locally appropriated funds. In such a situation, county road commissions are impliedly authorized to employ the skills of personnel and the technology of its resources to assist imperiled citizens on private roads in emergency situations.
A finding of the county road commission's implied authority to assist in emergency situations is supported by the constitutional mandates that (i) the powers of counties are to be construed liberally, Const 1963, art 7, § 34, and (ii) the "public health and general welfare of the people of the state are . . . matters of primary public concern," Const 1963, art 4, § 51. Cf. Thomas v Wayne County Bd of Supervisors, 214 Mich 72, 85; 182 NW 417 (1921).
In reaching this conclusion, I am mindful that the Michigan Supreme Court
concluded that a county road commission lacks authority to require a subdivision developer to make improvements to a county road located entirely outside of a platted subdivision, as a condition of approving the plat. There the court stated: "A county road commission draws its legal life from the county road law and, as a creature of that legislation, the commission has no power save that which is legislatively conferred." Arrowhead Dev Co v Livingston County Rd Comm, 413 Mich 505, 512; 322 NW2d 702 (1982). In the situation you describe, however, the county road commission is requested to utilize its resources on private roads, to the extent of county-appropriated funds, to provide emergency assistance to township ambulance personnel transporting people in need of emergency medical care. Under such circumstances, emergency assistance rendered by a county road commission would not be in violation of any state constitutional or statutory law.
It is my opinion, therefore, that a county road commission is authorized to use its resources to provide emergency assistance to township ambulance personnel on private roads.
FRANK J. KELLEY
STATE OF MICHIGAN