Court: Michigan dam owner responsible for May 2020 flooding

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(The Center Square) –A federal judge has found the owner of the Edenville Dam responsible for widespread flooding in May 2020, that together with heavy rain, forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 people from 3,500 homes in mid-Michigan.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Maloney granted Attorney General Dana Nessel a summary judgment against Boyce Hydro. Nessel had filed the motion on behalf of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy and the Department of Natural Resources.

The east embankment of the dam failed May 19, 2020, sending a surge of water downstream.

Through discovery, Michigan discovered in 2010 Boyce Hydro determined it’s east embankment dam might fail if Wixom Lake rose too high. Boyce Hydro could have fixed the defect and even made preliminary plans to do so, but neglected to follow through.

Ten years later, that same barrier failed in May 2020 just as Boyce Hydro had predicted internally back in 2010.

“It was vital the Court was alerted to these new revelations, and we’re appreciative of the summary judgement granted,” Nessel said in a statement. “The State demonstrated dam ownership disregarded threats to the safety and integrity of the dam, and absolutely was responsible for its failure, so much so they had no defense whatsoever.”

Nessel’s office says Boyce Hydro never divulged that defect to the state, even though the law required it to do so. Additionally, Boyce Hydro’s former dam safety engineer and chief operator resigned in protest in May 2017 because Lee Mueller – the person managing Boyce Hydro from his home in Las Vegas – allegedly routinely neglected basic dam safety priorities.

The court noted the former dam owners did not dispute any of the state’s evidence.

For example, the court held “Plaintiffs brought sufficient evidence to show that Defendants knew of its dam’s vulnerability and that Defendants did not make EGLE aware of that vulnerability. Defendants do not dispute either assertion.” The court also noted Boyce Hydro “never implemented” a planned “cutoff wall” that “would have been more likely than not to have prevented the failure.”

Now that the court has granted the state’s motion against the previous owners, Michigan will seek a monetary judgment against Mueller personally.

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