As Midland flooding recedes, a flood of class-action lawsuits begins

Boyce Hydro is accused of not addressing safety concerns with two of its dams, leading to breaches that drained Wixom Lake this week that flooded several communities.  (Photo courtesy State Rep. Rodney Wakeman)

As floodwaters still swamp Midland and neighboring mid-Michigan communities, federal lawsuits seeking class-action status have already been filed against the owners and operators of the Edenville and Samford dams. 

In one suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Detroit, several homeowners in Midland and Saginaw counties claimed the failure of the Edenville dam amid heavy rains Tuesday was “entirely preventable,” and placed blame with people and companies associated with the owner of the dams, Boyce Hydro. 

The breach of the Edenville dam north of Midland sent flood waters downstream, which overwhelmed the Samford dam, destroying homes and businesses in both communities before sweeping through Midland and beyond. 

The dam owners “indisputably knew for years that these Dams were inadequate, decrepit, unstable, unsafe, and would fail under predictable conditions,” according to the suit, link to suit filed by law firms Morgan & Morgan, Grant & Eisenhofer, and Jenner Law P.C.

The suit cites the now widely chronicled troubles of Boyce since acquiring the dams in 2006. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had repeatedly hounded the company to make safety and design improvements to better withstand heavy rains and potential flooding. 

As Bridge has reported, Boyce repeatedly failed to invest in spillway upgrades or other work demanded by federal regulators, arguing in part that it did not have enough money. 

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported Friday that a second suit was filed in the same federal court. That suit charges that Boyce Hydro “failed to operate, fix, or repair the dams in accordance with the established standard of care, resulting in catastrophic injury and damage to residents and their properties.”

In addition to the company, the suit also names as defendants the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. It was filed on behalf of home and business owners by FeganScott, a firm that specializes in class-action suits. 

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

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

EB
Sat, 05/23/2020 - 11:29pm

Sue? The dam owner isn't already bankrupt and judgement proof?

Rebuild the dams? That also seems foolish. These 500 year events have been much more frequent recently and global warming guarantees that this flood won't be the last or the most severe. What would be the cost of creating dams that can withstand twice the latest inundation? Twice, since the warmer air is increasingly pumping more evaporated sea water to us every day.

Our environment is changing and we all have to adjust.

Revere
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 8:20pm

Agreed. This was a glacier barely 10,000 years ago. The climate has been changing rapidly over the past ten thousand years and will continue to do so. Don't fight nature. You will lose.

Anonymous
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 7:42am

This is what privatization does for the public government and strong regulation used to help us. It seems the deregulation that started with President. Ronald Reagan-Republican has become unproductive. The GOP has continued to deregulate for example air traffic control, EPA, and many others leaving it up to private individuals. Sometimes it is better and safer with stronger rules/laws and enforcement. The GOP has tended to let owners run businesses and stronger regulation has been weakened over many years. Time to get stronger and fix all the dams in Michigan and across the country. I believe regulation can be good for business too. Healthy and wise standards tend not to be so costly in the end. Do it right.

JSK
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 7:49am

This is what privatization does for the public government and strong regulation used to help us. It seems the deregulation that started with President. Ronald Reagan-Republican has become unproductive. The GOP has continued to deregulate for example air traffic control, EPA, and many others leaving it up to private individuals. Sometimes it is better and safer with stronger rules/laws and enforcement. The GOP has tended to let owners run businesses and stronger regulation has been weakened over many years. Time to get stronger and fix all the dams in Michigan and across the country. I believe regulation can be good for business too. Healthy and wise standards tend not to be so costly in the end. Do it right.

William C. Plumpe
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 8:05am

Lots of blame to go around but owner is ultimately responsible. Other entities may have contributed to the disaster
but owner is primarily responsible.
My question is why was owner allowed to defer maintenance for so long?
In this case seems like more government control would have been a good thing.

Nessel’s mistake
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 9:22am

Now that Michigan is a defendant in the class action lawsuit. Probably due to Nessel filing a suit for Lowering the water level. Who will pay for her mistake, the Michigan residents?

john and elaine...
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 9:32am

If a home that was damaged by the flood, and the home did not have flood insurance, will the casualty insurance company be responsible for paying for flood damage? Were most of the homes down stream from dams required to have flood insurance or were the homes considered to be in the flood plain?

Anonymous
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 8:19pm

I wonder how much the residents along the river/lake frontage benefited from their location over the years. I wonder how involved they were in the management/care & maintenance of those waterways. I wonder how many would like the water ways returned to there previous status. I wonder how much value they would put on such an investment.
Rather than try to blame others for the past [which can't be change] why aren't people talking about the future, what could/should it be like, what would it take to get there and ensure that it was safely maintained?
Why aren't we hearing about the potential values the lake/dam system can provide, why aren't we hearing ideas about special districts for managing unincorporated areas or special use areas, why aren't we hearing about potential opportunities that be created?
I have watched how the people along the lakes and river have been briefly sad, but the day after they got to work cleaning up, they got into the muck and debris and literally were digging everything out to rebuild. Why don't people across that area and in Lansing see this is a place that fosters self-reliance and that will to work when no one is paying you. This is the work ethic to build Michigan on. I even listen to what was happening in Midland and at Dow facility and where Dupont people work and I heard nothing about blaming or waiting for others it was simply get ready for the worst and then deal with what comes next.
We are watching the middle of Michigan show the personal fortitude Michigan needs for the future. In-spite of Covid 19 and all the restrictions, people were giving up their safe homes to help those who no longer had homes.
I wonder who will step forward to call people together to start work on the future for that corridor along the water way all the way to Lake Huron. Will we hear of some business leaders, individuals, some elected officials, some teachers, some of those students that want to stay local, getting together to talk about the future and drawing in others from the community to start work on a brighter future locally and for Michigan.

This time of disaster, frustration, of events beyond individuals' control is a moment for people to think and work to the future.