Two heirs bought Midland dams as a tax shelter. Tragedy followed.

Midland

Midland was underwater last week when the upstream Edenville Dam failed amid heavy rains. (Tyler Dittenbir / Shutterstock.com)

In 2006, the clock was bearing down on Lee Mueller’s family.

Heirs of the founder of the Boy Scouts of America, Mueller and his relatives needed to reinvest money from the sale of an Illinois property in less than a year — or pay $600,000 in taxes to the IRS.

Eventually, a solution came to Mueller, an architect who lives in Las Vegas, and his cousin, Michel d’Avenas, a California musician who is the son of a French count and is now known as the Pebble Beach Bagpiper.

They would avoid taxes by purchasing four small hydroelectric dams in mid-Michigan near Midland, according to hundreds of pages of federal court records reviewed by Bridge.

The deal was troubled from the start for trustees of the William D. Boyce Trusts, which manages the fortune of a Chicago publishing magnate who founded the Scouts at the dawn of the 20th century. In the 14 years that have followed, Mueller and the trust have clashed repeatedly with state officials, federal regulators, local homeowners and even fishermen.

Jack Lehman rests after fighting back flooding waters near his home in Freeland last week. (Bridge file photo by Dale Young)

The source of friction: money, according to neighbors and court records.

Mueller “hates government, he hates paying taxes, and nothing makes him happier than when he can stick his finger in the eye of government,” said Joe Manelis, a longtime Sanford Lake homeowner who has clashed with Mueller over one of the dams on his lake.

Last week, after Boyce Hydro Power LLC, as well as prior owners, failed for decades to heed demands of federal regulators to increase flood capacity at the largest of the four dams, the Edenville Dam failed, sending billions of gallons downstream, destroying homes, property and prompting the evacuation of some 10,000 residents of Midland, Gladwin and Saginaw counties.

The flood came 1½ years after federal regulators terminated Boyce Hydro’s license to generate power at the Edenville Dam, citing decades of failures to fix spillways that can prevent flooding.

Mueller’s attorney, Lawrence Kogan of New York, said his client wanted to make repairs but didn’t have the money. Mueller is devastated by the flood, Kogan said.

“Of course, the man hasn’t slept,” Kogan said. “He feels terrible about all this.”

Court papers indicate the Boyce Trust said the dams have lost money every year since at least 2016.

Residents who live on lakes surrounding the dams are dubious about the pleas of poverty and accuse Mueller and the Boyce Trust of being absentee owners who for years didn’t invest in repairs.

“He was a ‘teller’ and a ‘seller,’” said Jan Colton, a Wixom Lake resident, adding that Mueller tells people what to do and sells them on the idea that they should pay for it.

‘He keeps us all in the dark’

Money used to buy the Midland dams came not from Mueller nor d’Avenas, but from trusts set up in the 1920s by their multimillionaire ancestor. 

William D. Boyce was a tycoon who made his fortune on local newspapers and had a soft spot for adventure and progressive causes like labor unions. He later founded the Boy Scouts of America, now known as Scouts BSA, whose mission is to prepare youths to “make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes.”

When he died in 1929, Boyce’s estate was worth $20 million, according to one biography, the equivalent of $300 million today. It was divided into a series of trusts that descendents Mueller and d’Avenas eventually led.

Mueller, described in press reports as a grandson, backs conservative causes and once listed his occupation in a campaign donation as a “spark of freedom.” D’Avenas is a great-grandson whose father was a French royal. He split his time as a child between France and Carmel, California, in a beachfront home later bought by actor Gene Hackman

“I’m just a plain old count. I don’t take too much stock in that stuff,” d’Avenas told Bridge.

Michel d’Avenas, a professional bagpiper in Monterey, California, describes himself as a hands-off trustee who left daily operations to his cousin and resigned from the trust a few years after the sale. "I don’t know what to say. I guess I can understand why he kept us all in the dark,” d’Avenas said of his cousin. (Emily C. McCormick / Shutterstock)

By 2005, when Mueller and d’Avenas controlled the trust, they found themselves in a time crunch.

That September, Boyce Trusts sold a property in Illinois with the intention of buying a new one to avoid paying taxes on the sale, according to a lawsuit Mueller and d’Avenas filed in 2007. 

Under federal tax code, owners of investment properties can defer paying capital gains tax on their properties when they sell them if they buy similar ones in a certain period. 

The cousins had 45 days to find alternative sites and six months to buy one, or they risked having to pay  more than $600,000 in capital gains taxes. Mueller and his associates identified the four Midland dams and buildings in Indianapolis and Houston as options, and bought the dams in 2006 after borrowing money to complete the purchase.

Mueller “spearheaded using the trust money to go after the dams in Michigan,” d’Avenas told Bridge.

D’Avenas described himself as a hands-off trustee who left daily operations to his cousin Mueller and resigned from the trust a few years after the sale. 

A fixture in Monterey Bay, California, d’Avenas has been a professional bagpiper for more than 40 years and told Bridge he lost track of the Boyce family interests years ago.

He said he didn’t know about the floods until a Bridge reporter told him of them Tuesday night.

Mueller “doesn’t tell us anything. He keeps us all in the dark. … I don’t know what to say. I guess I can understand why he kept us all in the dark,” d’Avenas said. 

“He was responsible for all of that.”

The purchase of the dams for $4.8 million prompted a mess of litigation that began just before the deal was finalized.

On almost the last day before the tax deadline, the two men who helped broker the deal added new stipulations, the Boyce Trusts allege in court records.

Because the trusts could not afford the entire purchase price, they borrowed about half from a California man, R.L. Milsner, who then sought payments of $150,000 a year until the loan was repaid, records show.

Another man, Scott Goodwin, who was hired as co-manager of the dams, got provisions giving him substantial control of the companies. Goodwin, who had run other hydroelectric dams, helped persuade Mueller to buy the mid-Michigan properties in the first place, according to the 2007 lawsuit.

The relationship between the trusts and Milsner and Goodwin deteriorated quickly, with accusations between the sides that spilled into lawsuits in Gladwin County and federal court. The trusts also battled the law firm that negotiated the deal in court for nearly a decade over legal fees.

D’Avenas resigned from the trust a few years after the sale.

“I just said I’m tired of this stuff,” said d’Avenas, who declined to elaborate.

“So then someone else is gonna do it. I just didn’t want to do it anymore.”

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

Problematic dams

The dams came with their own challenges. 

Since 1993, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had told Boyce and previous owners that Edenville Dam didn’t meet design standards and was in danger of failing during a heavy rainstorm.

FERC found the dam could drain only about half of expected “probable maximum flood,” — the amount of water expected only in the most severe weather — but the agency’s regulations require it to be able to pass the full maximum flood.

FERC directed Boyce to build new spillways that could accommodate worse flooding, but for more than a decade, Boyce failed to complete the project and claimed it lacked the money to do so. 

In a June 2017 compliance order, FERC commissioners warned that failing to fix the spillways could endanger human life. The company’s “disregard for the severity of this situation is appalling,” the commissioners wrote.

In 2018, FERC revoked Boyce’s license to generate power at Edenville. 

Kogan, Boyce’s attorney, pointed out that FERC had asked two previous owners to also add extra spillway capacity. 

“And none of them were able to do it,” Kogan said Tuesday. “You cannot look at the economics of this in a vacuum.”

The Edenville dam generated about $1 million in annual revenue, according to court papers, while three smaller ones nearby generated another $900,000. Expenses were $1.2 million or less, records show.

Boyce Hydro has lost $6,000 a day since the license was revoked, according to court papers.

In court papers, the company wrote it planned to put revenue from the Edenville Dam in an escrow account to finance the spillway improvements. 

“The absurdity of the requirement that … [Boyce Hydro] cease generating electricity at Edenville is that the same water that would be used to generate electricity must instead be wasted over the spillway for reasons having nothing to do with dam safety,” according to a federal suit opposing the revocation.

“The sustained cessation of generation … in the long term will increase the potential for flood damage.”

Many run-ins

Although he lived in Nevada, Mueller made his presence known in Michigan, often feuding with cottages along Wixom and Sanford lakes over water levels.

In 2013, local television stations reported that he faced charges on claims of ramming his car into a pick-up truck filled with people who had parked on his property to fish. 

The next year, he was accused of using a heavy chain to smash in the car windows of two others who fished by the dam. 

Both cases were charged as felonies and reportedly pleaded down to misdemeanors, according to news reports.

Mueller and Boyce also clashed with state regulators who demanded he improve recreation opportunities near his dams, according to court records and lawsuits. 

As part of license agreements, the companies were supposed to build a recreation area including a parking lot, fishing pier, canoe portages and access paths.

By 2015, state inspectors found Boyce Hydro not only hadn’t followed the agreed-upon plan, the company had set up fencing and barbed wire to prevent public access, records show.

Two years later, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources determined access was still limited.

Boyce Hydro also fell behind on property taxes on land underlying Sanford Lake, a 1,489-acre reservoir behind Sanford Dam that is among the four Michigan dam properties Boyce Hydro purchased in 2006.

By the time Midland County foreclosed on the Sanford lakebottom properties in March 2010, Mueller’s company had racked up more than $30,000 in unpaid taxes, according to news reports from that time. In total, the county foreclosed on 27 parcels.

Mueller said at the time he had intentionally not paid his taxes, telling MLive the county’s property records were “greatly and massively flawed.”

Kogan contended the dams never earned enough from selling electricity to Consumers Power to cover all the expenses, including the Sanford Lake upgrades, taxes and the major repairs needed at Edenville.

Midland was underwater last week when the upstream Edenville Dam failed amid heavy rains. (Tyler Dittenbir / Shutterstock.com)

Private owners, public trouble

Boyce Hydro’s clashes with government authorities and nearby communities highlight one of the liabilities of owning critical infrastructure as a private investment, said Jeremy Bricker, a civil engineering professor at the University of Michigan and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. 

There are almost 2,600 dams in Michigan, about three-quarters of which are privately owned, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. 

When the country’s old hydroelectric dams were first built, they required little maintenance and generated sizable profits, Bricker said. 

But as those dams have aged, their maintenance needs have increased while profits from selling electricity have decreased. 

If private owners are unwilling or unable to conduct needed repair and maintenance, as Bricker said “is probably going to be the case with many dams,” the public bears the risk of the owner’s disinvestment.

That’s what happened at Sanford Lake. 

Losing the lakebottom to foreclosure created a new problem for Mueller. The Sanford Dam’s FERC license required the company to control the bottomlands.

In April 2010, FERC sent Mueller a letter threatening fines and possible license revocation if he failed to regain control of the properties, either by purchasing them back or obtaining an easement to use them. 

The letter prompted years of wrangling between Boyce, Midland County and lakeshore residents as they sought a solution to the bottomlands issue.

Meanwhile, new conflicts arose between Mueller and area landowners.

In August 2010, Boyce began draining the lake to conduct dam repairs without first warning lakefront homeowners, said Manelis, the property owner. 

Homeowners had to scramble to remove boats from the water before they became stranded. 

By spring, Mueller claimed he couldn’t refill Sanford Lake without more than $80,000 to complete the repairs. If area landowners didn’t foot the bill, Mueller said, he would permanently drain the lake. Landowners were left with the feeling that their lake levels were being held hostage for money. 

“This is a guy who has a multimillion-dollar corporation,” said Manelis. “That money should be in his petty cash drawer.”

Local residents ultimately formed a group called the Sanford Lake Preservation Association, and paid for the repairs themselves. 

After Mueller refused for several more years to comply with FERC orders to maintain his dams, some of those same property owners helped form a local task force that planned to buy the properties from Mueller for $9.4 million — almost double what the Boyce trusts paid in 2006. 

The Four Lakes Task Force hoped to tax nearby residents to pay for repairs, and operate the dams for the enjoyment of communities who use the reservoirs.

But before the sale could go through, last week’s rain fell and Edenville failed. 

Now, the task force is reassessing its plans.

In a statement released Tuesday, task force president Dave Kepler said the organization “is dedicated to returning these lakes to a recreational and natural resource gem of the region.”

“We will do this,” Kepler said, “with a continued focus on public safety.”

In California, d’Avenas said he’s just catching up with the tragedy that followed his family’s investment.

“At least we know now what has been going on.  Lee has kept us all in the dark,” he wrote to Bridge in an email. 

“So sorry for all those poor people that were affected by all of this. Thank God my mother is not alive to hear about it.”


— Joel Kurth contributed to this report.

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Comments

Jason
Wed, 05/27/2020 - 6:14pm

Thanks for adding this part of the story. While the AG has some blame, there is plenty to go around. Keep reporting on both sides of the aisle and I’ll keep donating!

jldeboe@aol.com
Sat, 05/30/2020 - 11:18am

Litigation and repair orders were sent during Snyder admin. Can't hang this one on Nessel.

Eric
Wed, 05/27/2020 - 8:22pm

and the Boy Scouts just filed for bankruptcy

Barb
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 9:12am

The Boy Scouts have nothing to do with this tragic event. There is no need for multiple BSA references in this story. Author just looking for sensationalism.

lostinacointoss
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 10:25am

It's 100% relevant to the story and adds context as to where Mueller got all his money. He's a trust fund baby whose Grandfather would likely be ashamed of his actions in all this. I did not know this part of the story prior to reading, and appreciate Bridge Magazine reporting it accurately.

Barb
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 12:37pm

So you're saying that all the money he made off the Boy Scouts added to his wealth? Exactly how much was that? There is no profit in "founding" the Boy Scouts.

lostinacointoss
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 1:06pm

Seriously? Why do you care so much? Stay focused on this story. I couldn't care less about the Boy Scouts. My parents live on this lake and their lives have been turned upside down because of this. I suggest not letting one little detail deter you from what's really important in all this.

Rick
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 10:41am

The Boy Scouts ownership is relevant history. You may not like it but it is part of the history of this mess.

Barb
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 1:28pm

Boyce did not "own" the Boy Scouts. He did not profit from them. He founded them in the US and they were incorporated as a non profit. Yes, it's sad that such a generous man would have greedy heirs, but there is no financial, or any other, connection here to the BSA. His money came from publishing. It's misleading to include the BSA with these "heirs" who had no regard for public safety and only acted out of greed.

KJMC
Wed, 05/27/2020 - 9:21pm

This is the standard playbook for wealthy trust-fund baby GOP donors everywhere - cheat everyone at every chance you get, claim 'freedom!', and spend enough money buying lawyers and politicians to keep the laws off your back. No doubt he's shoveling money into his Cayman Island accounts as fast as he can right now, so he can claim he's broke when the lawsuits hit.

Marshall
Fri, 05/29/2020 - 8:00am

GOP has nothing to fo with this tragedy. Wait until the Democrat affiliated vultures land to profit off of this mess, they're already circling -- isn't that right Mr. Jeffery Fieger?

madmatthew56
Fri, 05/29/2020 - 10:09am

Dude's wearing a MAGA hat in a Reuters photo, but sure, the GOP has nothing to do with this tragedy, and the whole mindset of rich white entitlement, not to mention contempt for both government's crucial regulatory functions and folks who actually work for a living.

jldeboe@aol.com
Sat, 05/30/2020 - 11:09am

OUCH, that hit right between the AG on his MAGA hat.

middle of the mit
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 5:47am

I would like to give my thanks to the reporters and Bridge Magazine for doing the most in depth reporting into this that I have seen in the State so far.

The problem? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzGnX-MbYE4 Depeche Mode - People Are People (Official Video)

After reading this article, this is nothing different than the locals that live near my lake have had to deal with. Back lotters were asked to help pay for upkeep while the front lotters were taking their end road rights away from them. Except it seems that the front lotters were fighting for some lake and fishing access for the back lotters and the dam owner told them to kiss off.

And in the end nobody wins because it all ends up in court, fought for years, while everything else withers away....

For those that want to blame AG Nessel.....I am going to show you I CAN be non partisan.

There should have been a red flag on those dams. Anything that came across her desk......about those dams, should have had a red flag on it.

But can you really tell me, or anyone else that the owner, who ,after this article, didn't know what condition the dams were in? He threatened to drain the lakes! In 2010!

If you think that regulations were going to stop something............you would think the ability to make money would BE THE regulation that would force someone who cared about making money, to be THE incentive. Wouldn't ya?

If the FEDS couldn't do it, how do you think the lackadaisical regulations that conservatives have turned our State regulations into were going to do something better?

I have gathered a bunch of editorials from our States most prominent "conservative" News Paper.

Are you ready for the utter cogitative dissonance that you are about to undertake, if Bridge will post it?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1t-gK-9EIq4 Depeche Mode - Everything Counts (Official Video)

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2020/05/26/task-fo...

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2020/05/25/bankole-reopening-d...

This one they are telling you that Detroit opened too fast............

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/columnists/ingrid-jacques/2020...

This is the one that they are telling you that pro business is anti labor..........did you have to guess?

And here comes THE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2VBmHOYpV8 Depeche Mode - Policy Of Truth (Official Video

Opinion: Ease regulation to unlock American investment

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2020/03/07/opinion-ease-regula... Rich Studley and Bill Schuette

Telling you that releasing rules and regulations will help business people. What about those who aren't business people or those who are, but have to suffer under those who are "better business people" than they are? And what do you think would happen if HE was Governor?

Yet they still have the guts to post this....https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2020/05/21/mid-mic...

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/nation/2020/05/05/texas-eases-und...

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/2020/05/08/consumers-fined-10...

See the world from my eyes.............

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhZdL4JlnxI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrC_yuzO-Ss Walking In My Shoes

How does this pass for information?

Not my post...............the opinions that conservatives have.

They are literally throwing whatever they can at the window and seeing what sticks.

Guess what?

It's raining.

https://www.startribune.com/sonny-perdue-to-farmers-go-big-or-just-go/56...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbrtFd6bvLQ Depeche.Mode.Live.In.Barcelona. *Never.Let.Me.Down.Again

But you will....

jldeboe@aol.com
Sat, 05/30/2020 - 11:15am

Very sad for the land owners on this waterway. Willful neglect and disregard for multiple directives to improve these dams has no benefit to any involved parties. Let GREEDOM ring.

David Berry
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 8:58am

I don't understand how the lake could be considered a "natural resource gem," it was an artificial retention pond.

Trifle
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 9:09am

Ms. Beggin, Ms. House, Mr. Wilkinson, this is an outstanding piece of reporting. Informative, thorough, clear, relevant, timely. And the only solid reporting on this subject. Which is odd, seeing as how MLive, and even more so, the Midland Daily News, should have considered this the sort of information their readers would find of interest, and therefore want to report.

lostinacointoss
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 10:22am

I could not agree more, Trifle. I'm donating to Bridgemi.com right now. I was pouring over some of the details myself yesterday, and realized it would take days to piece everything together - Which Bridge Magazine has done an excellent job of, here.

Please, please keep reporting and digging on this! The deal struck between the Four Lakes Task Force and Mueller seems fishy (pardon the pun) to me. One piece of this article that I would like to see elaborated - FLTF pays $9.4 million for the dams that Mueller paid $4.8 million for 15 years ago? Then taxing the lakefront residents to foot the bill for the repairs... What the heck kind of a deal is that? Seems to me that the FLTF's "deal" was nothing more than slapping lipstick on a pig... unless there was more "incentive" for the FLTF, i.e. some kind of kickback from Mueller under the table. Just sayin. Where did that $9.4 million come from, how did they arrive at that number and why did the FLTF's inspectors conclude that Edenville Dam was in good enough shape to operate until they took ownership and started making repairs? Questions I have that are unanswered, at this point.

zooman
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 10:48am

Amen. The lead story in our local "newspaper" this past Sunday was about a Wiffle Ball field someone built in their backyard in Plymouth. Stories like this are why I support Bridge. I would also like to comment on the Boy Scout reference. I don't think anyone reading this would think that the authors are in any way denigrating BSA; the point they that they are making is how sadly ironic it is that a fortune left by a man who promoted civic values, service to community and love of the outdoors would end up in the hands of people whose values are totally opposite.

kate
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 10:04am

Seems to me that Mueller should forfeit the dams to Sanford Lake Preservation Association, they can take the 9.4 million they were going to use to pay Mueller and make the upgrades, and if there is any left over, put it in trust/escrow with the City of Midland for future upgrades. Any private infrastructure owner should be required to keep a certain amount in trust/escrow for repairs.

Mike
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 10:09am

Is this one of the problems of having a private entity control what probably should be a public domain? Raked the asset for all it is worth and leave the cost to the public to clean up the mess? State and Federal regulators need to take stronger action earlier.

George
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 10:54am

Great investigation. Mueller seems to be a scammer on a grand scale.

EB
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 11:04am

Ownership of the lake bottom-land is a surprise. I assumed it was owned by the lake shore owners, they had riparian rights to it and so long as it was underwater, it was not taxed. It appears the dam owner owns it and it is taxed. If the dam owner owns the lake bottom-land, I'd assume that the owner has the right to keep everything off his bottom-land, like docks and boat lifts. A strange arrangement I think.

If I owned shoreline property on this former lake, I don't think I'd want the dam to be rebuilt. It would cost me a bunch in taxes and assessments and there may be a better use of the former bottom-land that may mitigate the property value loss, like maybe a golf course. The dam failed and so will the next one, eventually. They all eventually fail.

john hayes
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 11:17am

The Four Lakes Task Force is a scam.

lostinacointoss
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 11:56am

I also want to point out how weak and spineless the federal and state government's reaction and directive to all this has been so far. It seems absolutely ridiculous to me that the FERC is now requiring Mueller to come up with a report on the conditions of the other 3 dams, and Michigan EGLE likely to ask for the same for Edenville Dam.

Like, that's your response? That's the action you're going to take, here - to send the guy a strongly worded letter? After all this, you still REALLY think Mueller is going to comply and provide a timely, thorough report?? And what do you think that's even going to accomplish?

I mean, I feel like I'm on crazy pills with this. Hundreds, if not thousands of people have lost EVERYTHING. There are two giant pits of mud out there filled with the stench of rotting fish and mussels. And that's the best our federal and state regulators can come up with? This guy should be prosecuted - Now! Why was he not put in handcuffs the day after this happened?? I care 0% WHO he votes for. State and federal regulatory agencies let him slip through the cracks for years, and they have enough evidence to show he's directly responsible for destroying people's lives, businesses, and several state infrastructure. Enough is enough! Get this guy in an orange jumpsuit, he is a CRIMINAL for this!

middle of the mit
Fri, 05/29/2020 - 9:31pm

It's not much of a coin toss when the person tossing the coin is using a double headed coin.

Heads they win, heads you lose.

Sue
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 12:00pm

So, in the interest of saving $600,000 in taxes, the Trust, Boyce Hydro and Mr Mueller individually, will now be sued for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Someone will find the deep pockets of people or insurance companies to cover Mr Mueller's errors and collect on his greed.

Mary
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 3:13pm

The only reason he might be losing sleep is worry over the coming lawsuits. The people and the state will be left holding the bag. Privatize the profits; socialize the losses. Mantra of the wealthy.

madmatthew561
Fri, 05/29/2020 - 10:13am

Best. Comment. Here.

George Hagenauer
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 3:42pm

A very good article. It might be interesting to track Mueller's political donations ........

Zilwaukeetalkie
Fri, 05/29/2020 - 6:16am

Feel the Bern.

Mike
Fri, 05/29/2020 - 6:20am

Feel the Bern.

Erwin Haas
Fri, 05/29/2020 - 9:33am

I got the impression that everyone, including Nessel, wanted the water levels behind the dams to be as high as possible and that repairing, profitability, ownership and the rest kind of swirled around in the periphery of that central interest.
But wasn't that the underlying cause when it emerged that too much water was present during a predictable storm?
St. Theresa said that more tears are shed over answered prayers than the unanswered......

Fishing man
Fri, 05/29/2020 - 10:21am

I fished above and below the Edenville dam often and had multiple unpleasant encounters with the owner. I kept wondering had FERC not revoked the licence for generating electricity, would this tragedy happen. Would the owner be more motivated in keeping the dam safe to earn cash? Would he be more diligent in monitoring the weather and lower the water level more to prepare for the storm? In the end, did regulation work or fail?

middle of the mit
Fri, 05/29/2020 - 9:21pm

How can you wonder these things when he threatened to drain the lake in 2010? Before his permit was taken away? You would think with a warning he would have been able to secure funding for the upgrades for the spillways.

This was not because he lost his permit. He wasn't doing anything when he was making money with the permit.

And being the owner of the dam should have been enough motivation to lower the level with the rain forecast.

Did private ownership fail? Or do we need some strength behind our regulations? Like confiscation, jail time?

It seems that is the only thing that would have been enough motivation for him to take care of his property. It's sad that there are still excuses for people to blame others when the wealthy don't take care of their own stuff that serves the public and it hurts the public.

Steven U.
Fri, 05/29/2020 - 1:19pm

I am not currently a resident of Michigan, but I am a graduate from Michigan Technological University with a degree in Geological Engineering. I have 20 years of experience, primarily with geophysics and applied technologies.

Over the past decade I have focused a great deal on bringing applicable technologies to areas of dire need, such as our failing infrastructure, including roadways, railways, bridges, and dams/levees. Unfortunately, It has been a frustrating and nearly fruitless effort. Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar, known as InSAR, is the most useful and applicable technology that owners/managers of dams can utilize to know and understand the structural integrity of their dams, and it is very cost-effective considering the exceptional precision and high volume of data that a ground-based system can provide, which in turn can be displayed to demonstrate time-based trends which in turn can then be used to predict a time and date of a structural failure. This technology exists, today, both as ground-based systems, or as satellite-based systems.

The frustration for me is that not only are owners/managers of our infrastructure assets ignorant of this technology, but so are the so-called professional licensed engineers that are hired and consulted to inspect and maintain these assets. Supposedly, these professional engineers are legally obligated to remain current on best-practices, current technologies, as well as new and developing technologies within the scope of their profession. InSAR technologies have been available since the 1990s with a strong increase in usage within other industrial sectors since mid-2000s. So this is actually relatively old technology, that a professional engineer should already know and understand, and then recommend to the owners and managers of these dams to be utilized.

Here is a brief article on what can be discerned using satellite InSAR, which is slightly less precise and considerably more infrequent, yet still effective in understanding the relative health of the dam structure:

https://www-ovela59-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.ovela59.com/the-blog/...

A ground-based system is more effective, and actually capable of predicting a structural failure. Unfortunately, I am aware of only one dam that currently has a ground-based system deployed for continuous monitoring.

The point of my comment is to offer additional perspective to those that wrote the article, those that have read the article, those that have been directly or indirectly affected by the recent dam failures, and for those that live near one of the thousands of dams that will fail during heavy weather, due to neglect and lack of actual understanding regarding the current health of the dams under their management. This recent case in Midland is not the exception, it is normal, and it is pervasive. As concerned citizens and landowners, start asking to see the InSAR data! Do not let owners/managers, engineers, nor public officials off the hook and instead insist that they show you the data. I will be happy to provide a video webinar on the technology to your community and your public officials, please send an email to geohazard.mt@gmail.com and I will make arrangements via web-based conferencing.

Tautulli
Wed, 06/03/2020 - 4:14pm

Just pay your taxes.
You don't need all the monies.

Clifford Booth
Wed, 06/03/2020 - 5:11pm

Really terrible. A lot of people have lost everything as result. Some lawyers and law firms are filing lawsuits to hopefully help these folks. There are several out of state firms advertising and I saw a Michigan firm Buckfire Law https://buckfirelaw.com on the local news too. I wouldn't be surprised if the owners have their money protected from lawsuits somewhere.

Sam
Wed, 06/03/2020 - 10:20pm

Be prepared! The old Boy Scout mantra could have come in handy. What this man lacked was a proper sense of duty. Follow the rules, be friendly, volunteer to help others without expecting a reward... that's the kind of person who should own a dam.

If he didn't want to maintain the dams and keep the recreation areas open he should have sold them sooner. Complaining about the darn government and all its regulations for stupid stuff like, you know, safety, flood control, all those "needless" bureaucratic requirements.
Did it never occur to him that this ain't a game?

If he wasn't making money on it, why didn't he sell? Go buy something you'll enjoy operating and maintaining. If he was truly losing money he would have done that. He isn't sleeping at night knowing what he did? Well, duh.

This is why we shouldn't put random anti-government crackpots in charge of major infrastructure with big public safety implications and no oversight. Apparently that needs to be said now?

rougarou
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 7:55pm

Trust Fund Babies. They are deadly.