Michigan GOP calls for Nessel to step down from investigation into dam failure

Midland was flooded this week when the upstream Edenville Dam failed amid heavy rains. (Bridge photo by Dale Young)

The Michigan Republican Party is calling for Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel to recuse herself from any investigation of the Edenville Dam, which failed this week amid heavy rains and flooded the Midland area.

The request cited Bridge Magazine reporting that found the state didn’t demand structural improvements after federal regulators pulled the dam’s license over inadequate flood capacity in 2018, and Nessel instead sued the dam owner in order to protect freshwater mussels from lake drawdowns. 

"With these troubling new revelations that the state's lawsuits may have played a role in this tragedy, it is clear that Attorney General Dana Nessel should not lead this investigation,” Republican Party chair Laura Cox said in a statement. 

“Therefore, the Michigan Republican Party calls for the Attorney General to turn over the investigation of the Edenville Dam's failure to federal authorities.”

Courtney Covington, spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office, called Cox’s statement “untrue and irresponsible” in an email to Bridge. 

“The primary focus of the Department of Attorney General is to assist with any legal efforts necessary to provide immediate relief to the citizens that have been affected by this tragedy, not to play politics with the Michigan Republican Party chair,” Covington said. 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday the state is “in the midst of going through (an) investigation” into the causes of the dam failure and pledged that “where there is culpability, we will pursue holding people accountable.” 

She and Nessel also released a statement Wednesday promising to pursue every legal avenue possible to get compensation for the thousands of Midland-area residents affected by the flood.

Nessel’s office in late April sued the dam’s owner, Boyce Hydro Power LLC, alleging it illegally lowered Wixom Lake over the last two years. State officials have claimed Boyce lowered the dam to avoid expensive maintenance measures required during winter weather.

For more than two decades, federal regulators cited the dam as unsafe due to inadequate spillway capacity, which ensures dams are able to safely discharge water in the case of a flood. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in late 2018 revoked the license of Boyce to continue creating hydroelectric power after years of noncompliance. 

The dam then went under the regulation of what is now the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, where inspectors found there to be “moderate deterioration” of the spillways but it “appeared to be stable and functioning normally.” 

The department didn’t demand any repairs, though a spokesperson told Bridge they were “continuing conversations about that deficiency.” Another state spokesperson, Hugh McDiarmid Jr., told Bridge that state officials were amid a comprehensive analysis of the dam’s structural issues when the flood hit.

“It is possible to protect public safety and natural resources at the same time,” Covington of the Attorney General’s office said. “EGLE and DNR’s lawsuit had nothing to do with the tragic event that took place and never sought to compromise public safety.”

Boyce has claimed the state was pressuring it to raise the levels of Wixom Lake before the flood and expressed concerns about the environment, but not the dam’s design. Last month’s lawsuit from Nessel’s office against Boyce claimed the drawdowns of Wixom Lake in 2018 killed “thousands if not millions of freshwater mussels.”

“It seems to us that there is a bit of conflict of interest” in Nessel leading an investigation into the dam failure due to the department’s lawsuit existing against the company, GOP spokesperson Tony Zammit said.

 

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Comments

Kevin Grand
Fri, 05/22/2020 - 6:07pm

"Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday the state is “in the midst of going through (an) investigation” into the causes of the dam failure and pledged that “where there is culpability, we will pursue holding people accountable.”

She and Nessel also released a statement Wednesday promising to pursue every legal avenue possible to get compensation for the thousands of Midland-area residents affected by the flood."

I highly doubt that seizing all of their assets and garnishing all of their wages for the rest of their lives will even make a dent in the damage AG Nessel & Gov. Karen caused.

Still, lets see if they put their money where their mouths are.

Deb Coykendall
Sat, 05/23/2020 - 9:18am

The article stated this has been a problem for a long time.. longer then Whitmer has been Governor so why didn’t Snyder do anything about it??? You blame her because she’s a Democrat.. AG is doing a great job but the Republicans have sat on their hands cause they are for corporations not the public welfare...let them do their jobs...

Anonymous
Sat, 05/23/2020 - 12:52pm

Nice try. The state assumed control of the dam in 2018, the same year Whitmer and Nessel were elected.

middle of the mit
Sat, 05/23/2020 - 7:57pm

Nice try,

But the Governor was elected in November of 2018 and didn't take office until Jan of 2019. And then they only had the information conservatives left them.

Still want to take responsibility?

Naww!!

Anonymous
Sat, 05/23/2020 - 10:30pm

Well yes.

According to one of the articles in the bridge: Three weeks before the 96-year-old dam failed this week amid heavy rains and caused the worst flood in Midland history, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel sued its owner, alleging it illegally lowered Wixom Lake in 2018 and 2019, killing “thousands if not millions, of freshwater mussels.”

The request cited Bridge Magazine reporting that found the state didn’t demand structural improvements after federal regulators pulled the dam’s license over inadequate flood capacity in 2018, and Nessel instead sued the dam owner in order to protect freshwater mussels from lake drawdowns. 

So they decided to sue for mussels instead of fixing the dams.

Anonymous
Sat, 05/23/2020 - 10:44pm

Well yes.

According to the article in the bridge: The request cited Bridge Magazine reporting that found the state didn’t demand structural improvements after federal regulators pulled the dam’s license over inadequate flood capacity in 2018, and Nessel instead sued the dam owner in order to protect freshwater mussels from lake drawdowns. 

Also in the same article they claim: Three weeks before the 96-year-old dam failed this week amid heavy rains and caused the worst flood in Midland history, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel sued its owner, alleging it illegally lowered Wixom Lake in 2018 and 2019, killing “thousands if not millions, of freshwater mussels.”

Bobby Joe
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 10:10am

In 2018 and 2019 the dam did not collapse, because the owner of the dam (apparently illegally but out of concern for safety) lowered the water levels on the lake. But in 2020 the AG made the owner raise the water levels, and the dam collapsed. It's not rocket science to figure out who is to blame here.

no name
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 7:56am

The state was forced to assume control when the Federal Government - after more than two decades of inaction decided to volley this issue to the State.

10x25mm
Fri, 05/22/2020 - 6:22pm

"With these troubling new revelations that the state's lawsuits may have played a role in this tragedy, it is clear that Attorney General Dana Nessel should not lead this investigation,” Republican Party chair Laura Cox said in a statement.

“Therefore, the Michigan Republican Party calls for the Attorney General to turn over the investigation of the Edenville Dam's failure to federal authorities.”

FERC should have absolutely nothing to do with this investigation either. They issued a preliminary permit to the Four Lakes Task Force to increase the generating capacity of the Edenville Dam to 6 MW. This was just a subterfuge to allow the dam to dump more water without reconfiguring spillways, while making a lot more more money. A financial opportunity FERC denied to the outgoing owners, Boyce Hydro Power, LLC.

Ms. Super Party...
Sat, 05/23/2020 - 1:15pm

Well, of course they would, and who effing cares?

Joan McComber
Sat, 05/23/2020 - 3:00pm

I'm no expert, but the way I see this is the Attorney General of any state works on many varying investigations/lawsuits at any given time. Just because she was involved in a prior lawsuit against these dam owners does not mean she cannot now pursue this investigation/ lawsuit. And, as the feds are the ones who issued the current permit, how is that any less a conflict? We need action now, not at some future date when others could find the time to check it out. Let Ms. Nessel do her job. It certainly can't be worse than anything that happened under Schuette's guidance.

JLD
Sat, 05/23/2020 - 11:28pm

Why can't the Rethuglicans just get over the 2018 election? Christ they're such hateful little whiners.

wendyboomyers
Mon, 05/25/2020 - 10:56pm

Oh my gosh...like you guys are with Trump. Can't get over the 2016 election and whine about absolutely everything he does.

Action Now
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 8:57am

Joan, you are wrong the Feds pulled the permit for power generation. Nessel should not have fought the dam owner for lowering the water level on an ancient dam. You do not continue to drive on a bridge which no longer supports the weight. So why would Nessel file a suit to stop the dam from lowering the water level. And why would Whitmer let this happen knowing the Feds ruled the spillway inadequate?

Anonymous
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 10:10am

I think there is a lot of dam evidence that contradicts your statement.

Comon Sense
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 7:48am

I am missing the Science! You have a 100 year old dam. The Feds determined the design was not sufficient and had inadequate spillway capacity. Why in the world would Nessel file suit against the dam owner for lowering the water lever. The State (Whitmer)should have required the water level lowered until dam could be improved! Protect the people of the Great Stat of Michigan. This is what happens when Lawyers and Career Politicians run the state.

Michael Borts
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 10:25am

@Debbie Coykendall the answer to your question is , because the state wasn't the lead in the safety of the dam when Snyder was Governor. It was also Nessel and Whitmer that claimed the illegal draw down of the lake level. If they had not insisted it be filled to previous levels the flood may not have occurred and lastly the state took over oversight of the dam in 2018 , both Whitmer and Nessel were in the positions they now hold.

MI Resident
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 11:27am

Outstanding, objective, reporting! The dam failure, and Midland flooding, was due to a perfect storm led by crumbling infrastructure and government neglect. Gov. Whitmer & AG Nessel “have flood on their hands.” The next question goes to whether Michigan has 2 tiered justice.

Salle
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 12:34pm

Seems to me that the Federal requirements were more stringent and more correct than Michigan's. Our state ought to beef up our requirements (or guidelines for inspection) to match the ones that the Federal department uses.

As to who does the inspection, the people in the Attorney General's office or some other entity (which would no doubt take a lot of time in getting the authority transferred), why would that make a difference? This seems to be a mighty picky issue. Just get it done, and keep the records of what is done open to the public.

Faith
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 2:25pm

I'm just about getting sick and tired of all the whining from the Michigan GOP and their surrogates. All the recall this and stop that and step down nonsense is divisive and counter-productive. They have nothing constructive to offer and never have. If their intent was to heckle and annoy they're succeeding but it doesn't look good on them. It just makes them look like sore losers, which they are.

Anonymous
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 3:18pm

It sounds like you're the one whining and sprouting nonsense and acting in a divisive and counter-productive manner. This is typical though- if you oppose tyrants and want to go to work and believe you have rights, progressives think you're the problem. I am not a number, Faith, and you have no right to kill me, take my property, deny me the right to work, or take away any of my liberties and freedom. I'm getting more and more annoyed of you thinking you have that power over me. And if I lose any more rights, privileges, communities, or property due to the tyrannical and arbitrary and capricious actions of you and your friends, things are going to get even worse.

10x25mm
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 6:25pm

It doesn't appear that even the freshwater mussels benefited from the actions of our Attorney General here.

Some divisive and counter-productive heckling seems in order.

Former Lake pro...
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 10:13pm

Obviously most of you who are criticizing the restoration of lake levels by attorney general Nessel know nothing about the history with the damn owner. Property owners have been trying to get the owner to raise lake levels which had been taken down and left down. The reason the owner took levels down was to avoid winter maintenance costs once he couldn't use the dam for power generation. The zebra mussel suit was both legal and supported by landowners. The intransigence of the dam owner is why the counties were in the process of buying the dam and lake bed, to try to make sure that repairs would be made and that a lake would exist. Stop trying to make everything about partisan politics. This is a tragedy and there has been one party consistently negligent, the owner

LH
Mon, 05/25/2020 - 11:23am

One could say the same about the other side. Many who comment on this site, including some on this story, are quick to point the finger of blame at the Snyder administration any time something goes wrong. The finger-pointing on either side does little good unless it leads to actual solutions and lessons learned to prevent future issues. Those who enjoy placing blame on the side they don't agree with are not contributing to any constructive dialogue.

Nicole Eisenhardt
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 4:53pm

I don't think any zebra mussels in the state are worth the lives of the people of Midland county. This is not the only county that has been infected by the flood. Muskegon and Ottawa county are also flooded businesses are underwater. homes here have also been affected and we are on the other side of the state. The incompetence of our AG is ridiculous. During a pandemic our governor stands in front of the people of Midland after they have lost their homes and tells them that they are not wearing masks and they are not social distancing. Is that all you care about? At this time we need to come together as a community throughout the whole state. if you cannot figure out that muscles grow across the whole entire state of Michigan you have issues.

DJ
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 8:23pm

The governor and attorney general are acting after the fact. This is done too often in Michigan and this country. After being in office one year, the governor still hasn't gotten the roads fixed (her cussing hasn't accomplished much). When these two came into office, as elected officials, they inherited the problems and must deal with them, which is now their responsibility. In fact, if they really wanted to prove themselves to the the citizenry, these are opportunities to do so. Certainly, previous governors failed in this area of dealing with the Midland dam situation. There seems to be a lot of talk coming out of Lansing these days, rather, why can't it be immediate action when these major problems come up?

EB
Mon, 05/25/2020 - 10:12am

Because pretty much everyone has a different opinion about what the water level should be for dammed lakes, Michigan circuit court judges have ordered specific water levels for many of these lakes. The orders are sometimes a maximum, sometimes a minimum and sometimes multiple maximums and minimums dependent on season.

Was such and order in place for Wixom Lake? A Detroit News article indicates this may have been the case: https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2020/05/23/nessel-..., and the only alternative for the Michigan AG was to enforce the court order.

Dams are always controversial, with owners, regulators, lake associations, townships, counties, cities, and courts vying for control of lake levels. It's a no win situation. And, when the dam fails, which they all eventually do, the finger pointing is a site to behold.

J. R. from Cadillac
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:21am

Again politics just keeps showing it's ugly head in Lansing! Being the case as it is then perhaps the focus of attention needs to shine on John Moolenaar. Representative Moolenaar; a resident of the Midland area and past employee of Dow was the State Rep for that district starting in 2002 continuing for three terms and in 2010 became the Federal Representative for the district and if I'm not mistaken wasn't that part of Moolenaar's job description to over-see this? I suspect this is just another political distraction from the present ruling party in Lansing but as the lawsuits start piling up, perhaps Representative Moolenaar will be required to actually stand in front of his peers and answer a few questions !

Marlene Augst
Sat, 06/13/2020 - 5:42am

EVERYTIME someone tries to hold this Administration responsible they accuse the GOP of playing politics. There is an OBVIOUS CONFLICT OF INTEREST with Nessers office leading an investigation. BTW How's the Flint Water investigation going? It appears those State and local employees will walk.