Investigating who is responsible for Edenville Dam failure that led to devastating floods

Local 4 Defenders investigate dam failure

The Local 4 Defenders have uncovered new information about who is responsible for the failure of the Edenville Dam, which led to catastrophic floods in mid-Michigan.

EDENVILLE, Mich. – The Local 4 Defenders have uncovered new information about who is responsible for the failure of the Edenville Dam, which led to catastrophic floods in mid-Michigan.

The owners of the Edenville Dam have been cited by federal regulators since 2004 for safety issues.

In 2018, federal officials revoked the hydro power generating license for the dam and gave the regulatory authority to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

EGLE also knew of the dam’s issues for the past year and a half, but the Defenders have learned not enough was done.

Looking back, the dam was an issue many people were worried about, but nobody did enough to stop what was happening.

The company that owns the aging, crumbling 96-year-old dam, Boyce Hydro, was cited for years for its failure to increase the project spillway capacity.

Federal regulators worried about the dam’s ability to withstand a major flood. The situation got so serious in 2018 that officials pulled the license for the dam to generate power.

“Regarding the dams, the state of Michigan is reviewing every potential legal recourse that we have, because this incredible damage requires that we hold people responsible, and we are pursuing and are going to pursue every line of legal recourse that we can," Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said.

Whitmer might need to look at her own state agency, the Defenders found.

Local 4 Defender Karen Drew obtained a 2018 inspection document from EGLE, which states the dam’s two concrete spillway showed signs of moderate deterioration but appeared to be stable and functioning normally.

The Defenders obtained photos from that inspection that show arrows pointing to where the spillway was deteriorating -- the left gate, the center gate and a right gate.

The abutment wall was noted as spalling, or breaking off into fragments.

Investigators noted erosion behind the dam’s wall, as well as the pier noses of the dam.

The problems and citations went on and on, but no major action was taken.

Boyce Hydro was supposed to hand in a detailed plan to EGLE in March about how to fix the issues, but that report was never given to the state.

“In the 18-month window we had this, we acted pretty aggressively on it,” EGLE spokesperson Hugh McDiarmid Jr. said. “This was a longstanding, decades old problem with a 96-year-old structure that we inherited a long time ago.”

Local 4 reached out to Boyce Hydro and received the following statement:

The managers and owners of the Edenville Dam are deeply distressed by recent events, and they have remained in ongoing contact with their dedicated personnel and apprised of the situation. Their primary concern all along has been the safety and welfare of the many residents of the Gladwin and Midland County communities.”

Many people who live in the area said they never felt their safety and welfare was a major concern.

Here is a statement from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee:

FERC continues to follow the reports on the situation at the Edenville and Sanford dams. Our primary concern is the safety of Michigan residents, and we urge them all to continue heeding evacuation guidance by local emergency management agencies. When it is appropriate and safe to do so, FERC will send a staff engineer to the site to assist with the investigation. The commission pledges to work closely with state officials and coordinate our investigatory efforts wherever possible.”

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (EGLE) released the following:

"EGLE assumed regulatory authority for the 96-year-old Edenville Dam in late 2018 after its license to generate hydropower was revoked by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. EGLE was in the process of reviewing federal records and conducted an initial inspection in October of 2018, finding that it was in fair structural condition. However, EGLE had strong concerns that the dam did not have enough spillway capacity – which allows water to flow out of the Wixom Lake impoundment –to meet state requirements. EGLE expressed those concerns to the owners’ consultants and was continuing conversations about that deficiency. EGLE had taken enforcement action against the dam’s owner for drawing down water levels without permission and for damage to natural resources as a result of those drawdowns. EGLE was pursuing additional enforcement action at the time of the breach.

Lack of investment in dam infrastructure is not uncommon in Michigan dams, which have suffered from deferred maintenance over the course of decades. That, combined with the historic rainfall and flooding, were factors in the Edenville Dam failure."

Click here for more from EGLE.

Here is a statement from Boyce Hydro:

About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter.

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.