Edenville Dam had problems for years, so why wasn't it worked on?

Published: May. 20, 2020 at 6:27 PM EDT
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(5/20/2020) - The federal government feared if improvements weren't made to the Edenville Dam, it could cause a major flood downstream.

Now that it collapsed Tuesday evening and sent floodwaters raging south into Midland, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to know why the problem wasn't corrected earlier.

The Edenville Dam and others along the Tittabawassee River have made headlines for years -- everything from structural problems to complaints of too much water allowed to pass at times, which dried up the northern lakes on the river.

The federal government actually revoked the owner's license to produce power from the dam in 2018. It claimed Boyce Hyrdo was not addressing safety issues that regulators worried could lead to a major flood that would threaten the city of Midland.

"These dams were built more than 100 years ago," said attorney Phil Ellison, who works on property rights cases.

Edenville Dam and three others along the Tittabwassee River are owned by Boyce Hydro, whose co-owner, Lee Mueller, was not available for comment.

Boyce Hydro had a sale agreement in January for the dams with a local task force for $9.4.million, but the sale is not final and Boyce Hyrdro remains the owner.

"We knew it was in disrepair and truly a grass roots group of community leaders had come together in the last few years to work at raising funds to repair those dams," says U.S. Congressman John Moolenaar, who lives in Midland.

Whitmer said legal action is possible if negligence by an entity played a role in the dam's collapse.

"The initial read-out is that this was known problem for awhile and that why its important to do our due diligence and do our action," she said.

Since the dam was not producing power, oversight belonged to Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

"EGLE had conducted an initial inspection of the dam in October 2018 and found that it was in fair structural condition. However we did have strong concerns that the dam did not have enough spillway capacity, which allows water to flow out of the Wixom Lake impoundment," a spokesman told ABC12 on Wednesday.

There is a little doubt that an investigation either on the state or federal level will take place on exactly why updates weren't made on the Edenville Dam in a timely fashion.

"Our lives are heavily regulated to prevent disasters like these, and when disasters like this happen, we have to question where was the oversight on this stuff, but at the same time owners have the responsibility to be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of their stuff as well," Ellison said.

He has represented property owners on the lakes that were created by the dams.

"To be able to use them they are going to have to be rebuilt, and to rebuild them is going to be a regulatory, i guess for the lack of a better word, a nightmare," Ellison said.