The state of Michigan filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Boyce Hydro, the company that owns the Edenville Dam. It, along with the Sanford dam, failed last month after a rainstorm, causing massive flooding in Midland County.
The suit — filed by the Department of the Attorney General on behalf of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and the Department of Natural Resources — will compel Boyce Hydro to immediately comply with a state order to fully inspect the portion of Edenville dam that still has potentially dangerous crack and erosion. It also requires Boyce Hydro to repair damages to the state’s natural resources, clean up the debris and hazardous materials released by the dams’ failure and pay civil fines.
“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,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement. “We know the owners of the dam, with their long history of neglect, are responsible for the dam’s failure. We can see already the devastating results of their inaction. This suit seeks an order requiring the dam owners to pay to remediate the harm they caused, and to take action to ensure it does not occur again.”
The dams failed last month, causing a flood that was classified as a 500-year flood, meaning that the likelihood of it occurring was once in every 500 years. More than 2,500 homes, businesses and nonprofits were damaged in the flood, said Chairman of the Midland County Board of Commissioners Mark Bone, according to the Detroit Free Press. The estimated cost of the damage is $175 million.
Issues with the Edenville dam were identified as early as 1993 and were known to Boyce Hydro when it purchased the dam in 2004. The company repeatedly failed to upgrade the dam — including increasing spillway capacity — through 2018, even after being ordered to by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Regulatory oversight of the dam was given to Michigan in late 2018, at which point the state began to work to bring the dam up to code. Transfer of the dam to the Four Lakes Task Force was imminent when the failure occurred.
“Recently, progress toward modernizing the dam appeared to be moving forward,” said Liesl Clark, EGLE director in a statement. “Tragically, it was not soon enough. At any point in the preceding 15 years, Boyce could have chosen to abide by federal orders and bring the dam into compliance. Unfortunately, they refused to make the improvements necessary to retain their federal license.”
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Jordyn Pair is a reporter with The Michigan Star. Follow her on Twitter at @JordynPair. Email her at [email protected]