Midland County residents sue state of Michigan over Edenville Dam failure

In this Wednesday, May 20, 2020, photo, people survey the flood damage to the Curtis Road Bridge in Edenville, Mich., over the Tittabawassee River. The bridge sits just south of Wixom Lake where the dams failed. (Neil Blake/The Grand Rapids Press via AP) (Neil Blake, Neil Blake, MLive)

Four Midland County homeowners have filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) seeking damages and other relief after the Edenville Dam failure that caused major flooding and extensive damage to their homes, boats, outbuildings, docks, canopies and other property.

A 28-page complaint was filed in the Michigan Court of Claims by Edenville, Mich. residents David and Andrew Krieger and James and Margaret Sperling. The Kriegers and Sperlings own adjacent properties and homes on the banks of the Tittabawassee River less than a mile south of the Edenville Dam.

According to the complaint, the 96-year-old earthen embankment failed after several days of heavy rain on May 19, 2020. The breach released most of the water from the 1,980-acre Wixom Lake into the swollen Tittabawassee River which overflowed its banks to a record height. Property, homes and businesses were flooded as the water rushed south, leaving parts of downtown Midland under several feet of water and flowing over the Sanford Dam further downriver.

Shortly after the Edenville Dam was breached, as the complaint details, properties and homes belonging to the Kriegers and Sperlings were rapidly and extensively flooded as the water rose some 50 feet above the usual level of the river. Their homes were flooded, boats and docks were lost, and massive destruction and property loss occurred.

The complaint states that the failure of the Edenville Dam and subsequent flooding of a large area in Midland County was caused, in part, by a failure of EGLE to order the necessary repairs to the dam.

“For decades, federal regulators had demanded changes to the design of the Edenville Dam to improve its ability to withstand flooding, and federal regulators had warned since at least 1993 that the dam failed to meet safety requirements,” reads the complaint.

The relief requested by the plaintiffs includes: an order declaring the conduct of EGLE unconstitutional; an injunctive order to remediate harm caused by the defendant; compensatory damages; punitive damages and attorney fees and expenses.

They are represented by Pitt McGehee Palmer Bonanni and Rivers law firm.

Defenders investigate who is responsible

The Local 4 Defenders found Boyce Hydro, the company that owns the 96-year-old dam, recently issued a statement saying in part it was “under pressure” to "raise the level "of water at Wixom Lake a month before the dam failed but the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy denied ever pressuring the owner to raise water levels, but they did approve it.

In a document from February, the state agency did authorize the company to “raise the Wixom Lake level to normal summer pool elevation” during the “spring of 2020”

EGLE told Local 4 that approval came with conditions as the state agency was concerned about the company lowering water levels in the winter, damaging natural resources.

About the Author:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.