Judge: Edenville Dam still poses ‘grave risk,’ needs immediate inspection

Edenville Dam aerial

A May 19 flood caused the Edenville dam in mid-Michigan to fail, leading to the evacuation of more than 10,000 people and some $200 million in damages. Regulators are now trying to figure out what went wrong and who is to blame. (Credit: Maxar Technologies)

Citing “grave risk to property and public health,” a federal judge has ordered the owner of the failed Edenville Dam to inspect the dam immediately and submit a plan to address any dangers. 

In an order Monday granting attorneys for the state a restraining order requiring the inspections, U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney said dam owner Boyce Hydro has been slow to comply with state orders to assess damages following the dam’s May 19 failure.

The state complained that cracks in the dam present a danger to residents who have returned to the surrounding area to retrieve belongings. In addition, the state told the court that the partial dam is diverting the flow of the Tobacco River and preventing repairs that would allow M-30 to reopen.

“If another storm were to come through the area, the damaged dam presents a grave risk to property and public health,” Maloney wrote in his order. “Defendants have slow-walked their response, without regard to the possibility that now-damaged dam could cause another mass flooding event.”

The order requires Boyce to immediately determine whether the dam’s Tobacco River side poses a risk to public safety, natural resources and public transportation. Boyce must propose a plan by Friday to take “immediate action” if such risk exists. The order also requires Boyce to prepare a report by June 24 on the safety and stability of the rest of the dam, and propose any actions to address issues. 

Officials with the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy, which oversees Edenville Dam, could not immediately be reached for comment on the order.

The order comes four weeks after the dam failed following heavy rains, sending billions of gallons of water downstream, triggering a second failure at the downstream Sanford Dam, forcing the evacuation of more than 10,000 people and causing an estimated $200 million in damages.

Three days later, the state ordered Boyce to have an engineer evaluate the dam and report back by May 24. Boyce did not respond, according to Maloney’s order, and then missed a second deadline, too. 

Boyce then indicated it would begin the inspection June 8, “but it is not clear whether the inspection occurred,” Maloney wrote. 

But Lawrence Kogan, an attorney representing Boyce, said engineers hired by Boyce conducted a six-hour inspection of the dam on June 10, along with Dan DeVaun, one of the state’s two dam safety experts.

In a letter to Kogan that he filed Monday in federal court, an engineer from Ohio-based TRC Engineers discovered that the Tobacco River is eroding a “significant length” of the dam near M-30 after the dam failure altered its flow.

In the letter, engineer Shawn D. McGee recommended installation of a temporary retaining wall to divert the river’s path and prevent further erosion.

McGee also noted tension cracks and “surface sloughing” along the dam’s Tobacco River spillway, a result of erosion damage during the flood.

“The slope appears to be stable from a global perspective,” McGee wrote, but Boyce should continue to monitor the cracks and install equipment to detect any movement of the spillway’s slope.

McGee promised a follow-up “detailed inspection report” in about two weeks to itemize “critical items that need to be addressed.”

Monday’s court order is the latest in what is expected to be a long legal battle over the May 19 dam failure. It comes as multiple class-action lawsuits have been filed on behalf of flood victims, and as the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and a U.S. House of Representatives committee investigate the dam failure in separate probes. 

In the wake of the flood, the state sued Boyce on June 9 in state court alleging the company is responsible for the dams’ failures and demanding it pay for costs related to the dam break. 

The case was moved to federal court and, in a separate order Monday, Maloney denied the state’s request to transfer it back into the state court system. The case poses substantial questions of federal law, Maloney said, in part because federal regulators knew about Edenville Dam’s deficiencies well before the state took over regulatory duties in 2018.

FERC oversaw the Edenville dam for decades, and repeatedly warned that the dam could not withstand a major flood. FERC yanked the dam’s power generation permit in 2018 after Boyce failed to follow orders to increase its capacity to pass floodwaters. 

That action transferred oversight to state regulators in Michigan, whose dam safety standards are half as stringent as those of the federal government.

State officials said they were in the process of determining whether Edenville met Michigan’s lower standard when the dam failed last month, but a group of area residents has contended that the state was aware of Edenville’s deficiencies.

The state’s lawsuit “argues that Defendants mismanaged their dams for over a decade,” Maloney wrote. “To adjudicate the claims presented, the Court must consider a federal regulatory agency’s implementation of a federal law.”

FERC has ordered Boyce to submit an incident report on the dam failure by today, and follow up with a more robust forensic analysis into the root cause of the dam’s failure. 

The House committee seeking answers from EGLE and FERC about their oversight of the Edenville Dam had set a deadline of Monday for the agencies to provide answers.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Comments

middle of the mit
Tue, 06/16/2020 - 9:12pm

{{{{ U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney said dam owner Boyce Hydro has been slow to comply with state orders to assess damages following the dam’s May 19 failure.

“If another storm were to come through the area, the damaged dam presents a grave risk to property and public health,” Maloney wrote in his order. “Defendants have slow-walked their response, without regard to the possibility that now-damaged dam could cause another mass flooding event.”}}}}

But private owners are so forthcoming when their own investment and the public is at risk!

[[[Three days later, the state ordered Boyce to have an engineer evaluate the dam and report back by May 24. Boyce did not respond, according to Maloney’s order, and then missed a second deadline, too.

Boyce then indicated it would begin the inspection June 8, “but it is not clear whether the inspection occurred,” Maloney wrote.

The case was moved to federal court and, in a separate order Monday, Maloney denied the state’s request to transfer it back into the state court system. The case poses substantial questions of federal law, Maloney said, in part because federal regulators knew about Edenville Dam’s deficiencies well before the state took over regulatory duties in 2018.]]]]

This is the only out the dam owner has. Blame the Feds for not being jack booted thugs when it comes to regulation of dams. Friendly wager of bragger rights?

[[[State officials said they were in the process of determining whether Edenville met Michigan’s lower standard when the dam failed last month, but a group of area residents has contended that the state was aware of Edenville’s deficiencies.

In fact, the task force offered to provide the consultant’s study to the state but was rebuffed by regulators, Kepler said. ]]]]

Maybe Mr Kepler should talk to Mr Clark, the then in 2013 ,township clerk about how the township and everyone else felt about the possibility of a flood.

[[https://www.ourmidland.com/news/article/Wixom-Lake-may-be-drained-due-to...

Township Supervisor William Clark said the suit seeks an injunction against Boyce lowering water levels until financing is in place. He is not in favor of the flood project. “Almost everybody believes it’s ridiculous, but we’re not fighting that. It’s too big. They’ve done years of engineering studies.”]]]

If the task force was willing to provide the information from the consultants study, that means the task force had the study and knew about it....doesn't it?

And who asked and petitioned the State and the County to raise the level of the lakes to the Full LEGAL Summer level?

Why would they do this if they have the information that they say the State rebuffed that they say told them the dam that made their lake a lake wasn't safe?

I smell a bunch of skunks!

Don
Wed, 06/17/2020 - 8:49am

For over 20 years the state has been hiring unqualified people so companies do not have to follow the regulation and laws the can stall and stall and stall with a little money to the state employee to turn their back on the problems>>>> Just look at the toxins site along I696 which was given a clean bill of health by the DEQ,,,, who keeps being paid off to not enforce the laws!!!!!

middle of the mit
Thu, 06/18/2020 - 8:21pm

Who is about to confer their 200th federal Judge? The most by any President in recent history.

Get used to this!

And conservatives?

OWN IT.