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Michigan judge allows lawsuits over Midland-area flooding to proceed

 The Edenville Dam failed on May 19, sparking several lawsuits.
The Edenville Dam failed on May 19, sparking several lawsuits. (WJRT)
Updated: May. 21, 2021 at 4:33 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - A Michigan Court of Claims judge is allowing hundreds of victims affected by flooding after the Edenville Dam failed a year ago to continue with lawsuits against the state of Michigan.

Judge Cynthia Stephens ruled against state attorneys, who were asking the court to dismiss claims against the state in dozens of civil lawsuits filed after the dam collapsed and unleashed record-breaking floods along the Tittabawassee River. The ruling means the lawsuits can continue.

Attorney Ven Johnson, who is representing about 300 flood victims, said attorneys representing the state plan to appeal Stephens’ ruling. He believes an appeal shows the state has “learned nothing nor have empathy for the people of Mid-Michigan who lost everything due to the state’s negligence.”

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy both are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

“This is a significant step forward in compensating these nearly 10,000 flood victims,” Johnson said. “We believe Judge Stephens’ opinion is 100% correct and in the event that it is appealed it will be upheld.”

The Edenville Dam was owned by Boyce Hydro when it failed after days of heavy rainfall on May 19, 2020. Boyce lost its permit to continue generating hydroelectric power at the dam in 2018, which shifted regulatory authority to the state.

Boyce continued generating power at the Sanford, Secord and Smallwood dams in Mid-Michigan, however. Those structures remained under regulation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time of the 2020 flooding.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed against Boyce Hydro since the Edenville and Sanford dams failed. The company filed for bankruptcy last year and relinquished control of all four dams to the Four Lakes Task Force, which is a group of property owners along the lakes near the dams.

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