The State of Michigan has filed a motion against the owners of Edenville Dam after new evidence revealed they knew the dam was defective years before it burst.
During the discovery phase of their case against the dam’s owners, Boyce Hydro, the State discovered they knew in 2010 that the east embankment might fail if Wixom Lake rose too high. The State says Boyce Hydro never fixed the issue, and it was exactly that part of the embankment that failed in the May 2020 dam failure that flooded the Sanford community.
The State says there’s no evidence Boyce Hydro ever told the federal government, which regulated the dam at the time, about the defect, or told the State of Michigan after it took over regulation in 2018.
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“This filing makes clear that Boyce Hydro knew of critical safety issues at the Edenville Dam but failed to take even the most cursory actions to fix the deficiencies or alert regulators to the problem,” said Aaron Keatley, EGLE acting director. “This fits with the company’s decades-long history of violations and antagonism toward federal and state regulators and illustrates the owners’ culpability in this catastrophic dam failure.”
In 2017, Boyce Hydro’s former dam safety engineer and chief operator resigned in protest over safety procedures being neglected by the dam’s manager, Lee Mueller. According to the State, Mueller instead put his efforts into side projects like a music festival at the dam, trying to turn the dam into an RV park, and digging a pond off-site rather than fixing the dam.
After the 2020 dam failure, Boyce Hydro fought against the State’s investigation with Mueller refusing court orders to the point that it “astonished” the judge. He was sanctioned for his misconduct on Feb. 8, 2023.
Because Boyce Hydro declared bankruptcy, the State will not be able to seek damages against the company. However, any funds left in Boyce Hydro’s estate will go to the 2020 flood victims. The State says they will next pursue a case against Lee Mueller personally, whom has already been found at fault in court for the dam’s failure.