Dozens of residents join lawsuit against dam owners following devastating mid-Michigan floods

Residents file class-action lawsuit against Boyce Hydro

More than 60 families have joined a class-action lawsuit against the owners of the dams that failed and caused catastrophic flooding in mid-Michigan.

MIDLAND, Mich. – As many as 60 residents have joined a class-action lawsuit against the owners of the dams that failed and caused catastrophic flooding in mid-Michigan.

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

There’s a lot of finger pointing as residents join a class-action lawsuit against the dam owners and the state. They claim this all could have been prevented.

Tom and Linda owned a home in Lake Wixom. They showed Local 4 what’s left of their dream home.

“We moved up here because we wanted to be by the lake (where) we grew up as kids,” Tom said.

Married 31 years, it was the home they bought so grandchildren could visit and play on the lake in the summer. They were renovating it, but now the lake is gone and their home is ruined.

“We just took the camper out this morning, so now we are living in there,” Tom said. “It was a mess. It was heartbreaking. It was bad to see everything floating.”

They’re not sure if they’ll have the money to rebuild.

“We are not in a flood zone, either, so we couldn’t get flood insurance, and so banks don’t want to give you a loan if you have been flooded, so it is just a big mess,” Linda said.

“They failed each of these homeowners,” said attorney Bob Lantzy, of Buckfire & Buckfire.

Lantzy’s law firm is representing more than 60 families in the class-action lawsuit against dam owner Boyce Hydro.

“For years, the defendants were aware that the Edenville and Sanford dams were structurally unsound, yet they failed to take action,” court documents allege.

“Our biggest issue is when the state and federal government allow private companies, you know, to operate and maintain a dam system that could potentially harm and have such a devastating effects on so many people,” Lantzy said.

Residents have also filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, claiming both “had knowledge and ample warning of the problems with the Edenville Dam and owed the plaintiff a duty to anticipate the failure of the dam, as well as the consequences of such failure, and to act accordingly to avoid subjecting plaintiffs to property damage and destruction.”

“We expect that all of them are going to be responsible and take care of business, as they should, and we see a lot of failures on all sides, and we intend to hold those responsible accountable,” Lantzy said.

LIST: 6 dams in SE Michigan considered ‘high hazard potential dams’

Robert and Cindy Long stood inside what’s left of Alex’s Railside Restaurant -- their business for the past 18 years in downtown Sanford.

“We have people texting us (that) we had eight feet of water in the restaurant,” Robert Long said. “We have worked 10, 12, 14 hours a day to survive this place, and then we found out that this was all destroyed and gone, and the insurance company said, ‘Sorry, can’t help you.’”

They said their building needs to be gutted.

“You know what, we are very fortunate this is just material,” Robert Long said. “It can all be rebuilt. But the problem is at our age, who starts over with a mortgage like this again?”

They worry about their 24 employees and everyone affected by the floods.

“It just -- it could have been prevented,” Cindy Long said. “It could have been prevented not only for us, but I’m angry for the people who have lost everything. We still have our home. We have our health. We have our family.”

“Somebody has to be responsible for this,” Tom said. “I don’t know if it is Boyce or the state. I mean, there has been so much stuff, involvement with the state and dropping the levels and raising the levels. It is just very confusing.”

Tom said they plan to rebuild if they can get enough money.

The lawsuit looks to hold Boyce Hydro negligent and liable for damages, including medical expenses, property damage and property value.

Local 4 reached out to Boyce Hydro for comment on the lawsuit, but did not receive a response.

The separate lawsuit against the state seeks damages. Local 4 reached out to the DNR and EGLE. EGLE officials said they cannot comment on pending litigation.

You can view the Boyce Hydro federal lawsuit below.

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.