Michigan sues Boyce Hydro for costs from Edenville, Sanford dam collapses

Tim Evan's Fieros Forever museum in Sanford got scattered all over the village during this...
Tim Evan's Fieros Forever museum in Sanford got scattered all over the village during this week's floods. (WJRT)
Published: Jun. 9, 2020 at 3:44 PM EDT
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(6/9/2020) - The state of Michigan is adding to the growing number of lawsuits filed against Boyce Hydro after the failures of the Edenville and Sanford dams.

The Michigan Attorney General's Office announced a new lawsuit against the dams' owners and operators Tuesday on behalf of the Michigan departments of Natural Resources and Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

The lawsuit claims Boyce Hydro's negligence caused both dams to fail on May 19, which led to record-breaking floods along the Tittabawassee River in three counties.

If successful, the state lawsuit would require Boyce Hydro and its operators to pay for natural resource damage and clean up from the dam failures. The state also is seeking civil fines and damages.

“This suit seeks to hold the dam owners accountable for the damage they caused and recoup the money the taxpayers have spent responding to the ongoing emergency created by this devastating flood,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

The state is filing separate legal action that would force Boyce Hydro to fully inspect cracks and erosion on what's left of Edenville Dam in Gladwin County. The state says the company has been too slow in responding to a May 22 request of the inspection.

The dam failures allowed the contents of Wixom and Sanford lakes to flow down the Tittabawassee River. The river crested in Midland on May 20 at a record level of 35.05 feet.

State officials say federal regulators noted problems with the dams back in 1993 and Boyce Hydro was aware of the deficiencies when they bought the dams in 2004.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked the license for Boyce Hydro to generate electricity with the dams in 2018 and required upgrades. Regulators cited inadequate capacity of the dams' spillways, among other problems.

“We know the owners of the dam, with their long history of neglect, are responsible for the dam’s failure," Nessel said. "We can see already the devastating results of their inaction. This suit seeks an order requiring the dam owners to pay to remediate the harm they caused, and to take action to ensure it does not occur again.”

State regulators took oversight of the dams in 2018 after the FERC license was suspended. They were working on determining whether the dams complied with state standards and facilitating transfer of the structures to the local Four Lakes Task Force when the dams collapsed.

The task force was formulating plans to upgrade the dams back to federal standards and begin generating electricity again. State regulators planned to offer $5 million toward the project.

“At any point in the preceding 15 years, Boyce could have chosen to abide by federal orders and bring the dam into compliance,” said Liesl Clark, director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. "Unfortunately, they refused to make the improvements necessary to retain their federal license."