State says evidence shows owners of failed mid-Michigan dam were negligent

State argues management is at fault for 2020 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)

LANSING, Mich. – The Department of the Attorney General filed a motion on Thursday after uncovering crucial facts pointing to negligence among former owners regarding the 2020 failure of the Edenville Dam.

According to a release from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office, the department on Thursday filed a motion for summary judgment on behalf of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy and the Department of Natural Resources. The filing is part of the ongoing action against the former owners of the failed Edenville Dam, Boyce Hydro Power.

On May 19, 2020, the east embankment of the Edenville Dam failed, resulting in a significant surge of water downstream into surrounding communities. The dam was one of two that failed and caused massive flooding in mid-Michigan, displacing many that year.

Thursday’s motion was filed after key facts previously unknown to the public were uncovered during the discovery process. Such facts include the 2010 determination from Boyce Hydro that the east embankment of the Edenville Dam might fail if Wixom Lake’s water levels got too high.

The state argues Boyce Hydro could have fixed the defect or made plans to fix it, but they did not follow through.

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The embankment that experienced a failure in May 2020 was the very same embankment that Boyce Hydro had internally predicted could fail back in 2010.

Boyce Hydro failed to disclose information regarding the defect to both the federal government, which regulated the dam in 2010, and the state, even after regulation was passed on in 2018.

The state says Boyce Hydro’s former dam safety engineer and chief operator resigned in protest in 2017 because Lee Mueller, Boyce Hydro’s manager, frequently neglected basic dam safety priorities. According to the release, Mueller prioritized side projects such as trying to host a music festival at the dam or attempting to change the dam into a marina or RV park.

The chief operator finally resigned when Boyce Hydro used its staff and resources to dig a pond off-site rather than repair a major safety defect inside the Sanford Dam.

“The Edenville Dam failure was a devastating tragedy for thousands in that community, and these new revelations clearly show that failure began at the very top of Boyce Hydro,” Nessel said in a statement. “We discovered an unconscionable disregard for safety and dam integrity that cost the community that relied on the security of that dam immeasurably, and it’s important we share this with the court today.”

If the court grants the state’s motion filed on Thursday, Boyce Hydro will be dismissed from the case. Through the bankruptcy process initiated by Boyce Hydro, the state can determine the company’s responsibility for the dam failure while ensuring that any remaining funds in the company’s estate are appropriately allocated to flood survivors who suffered damages to their homes and businesses.

The state will subsequently seek a default judgment against Mueller personally, as the court has established his responsibility for the failure of the dam.

To view the full motion filed on Thursday, click here.

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