State sues company for negligence in Midland dam failures

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This photo shows a view of a dam on Wixom Lake in Edenville, Mich., Tuesday, May 19, 2020. People living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river have been evacuated following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area. (Kaytie Boomer/The Bay City Times via AP)

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Michigan regulatory agencies filed a lawsuit against a company for damages and negligence in the Edenville and Sanford dam failures last month.

The eight-count suit against Boyce Hydro was filed by the Department of Attorney General on behalf of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and the Department of Natural Resources.

“This suit seeks to hold the dam owners accountable for the damage they caused and recoup the money the taxpayers have spent responding to the ongoing emergency created by this devastating flood,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

The suit will be followed by a motion to immediately comply with a state order from May 22nd to fully inspect potentially dangerous cracks and erosion in a damaged portion of the Edenville Dam that is still standing to determine what steps must be taken to protect public safety.

Federal regulators identified deficiencies at the dam as early as 1993 which were well known to the company when they purchased the dam in 2004. After repeatedly failing to comply with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission orders to upgrade the dam through 2018, the company’s permit to generate hydroelectric power was revoked.

“Thirteen years after acquiring the license for the project, the licensee has still not increased spillway capacity leaving the project in danger of a [probable maximum flood] event,” FERC wrote in a 2017 compliance order. “The licensee has shown a pattern of delay and indifference to the potential consequences of this situation. A situation that must be remedied in order to protect life, limb, and property.”

Damage to lives, property, and the natural resources of the state are extensive as well as still being tallied following the dam failures, according to a press release from the Attorney General’s office.

“At any point in the preceding 15 years, Boyce could have chosen to abide by federal orders and bring the dam into compliance,” said Liesl Clark, EGLE director. “Unfortunately, they refused to make the improvements necessary to retain their federal license.”

The lawsuit requires Boyce to repair damages to Michigan’s natural resources, clean up discharges of debris and hazardous materials caused by the dam failures, as well as pay civil fines and damages related to the disaster.

“Residents on and near Wixom and Sanford lakes formed by the Edenville and Sanford dams, respectively, should be swimming, fishing and boating today instead of recovering debris and staring at mud pits where their lake used to be,” said Dan Eichinger, DNR director. “The wetlands, wildlife and aquatic organisms that are the base of a healthy ecosystem have been destroyed.“

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