The lawsuits say the State of Michigan and privately-owned Boyce Hydro neglected to maintain the Edenville and Sanford Dams, which failed amidst heavy rains in May.
Michigan residents have filed a series of lawsuits against the state and private owners of two Midland-area dams which failed amidst heavy rains last month.
According to MLive.com, Detroit attorney Geoffrey Fieger is spearheading two new class actions related to the collapse of the Edenville Dam and overflow of the Sanford Dam, further downstream.
MLive.com notes that the lawsuits were filed in the Michigan Court of Claims and the Midland County Circuit Court. Together, the suits allege that the owners of the dams, along with the State of Michigan, were negligent in maintaining the structures.
Fieger said that the damages could exceed a billion dollars.
The dams’ failure culminated in mass flooding, with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declaring a local state of emergency.
Michigan Radio reports that Michigan has been responsible for maintaining the Edenville Dam since 2018, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rescinded Boyce Hydro’s license.
Boyce Hydro, says Michigan Radio, had been repeatedly cited for its failure to comply with federal dam standards; it was also unable to pass flood flow tests.
But after taking control of the Edenville Dam, Michigan quickly declared it safe to operate. In October 2018, the state found that it was in “fair structural condition.”
The two class actions charge Michigan Attorney General Gretchen Whitmer and Boyce Hydro—along with Midland County, Gladwin County, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources—of gross negligence in ensuring maintenance.
More specifically, writes MLive.com, the class accuses Nessel and county officials of “intentionally” increasing water levels behind the Edenville dam to protect freshwater mussels and facilitate recreational boating.
Right now, there are at least three prospective class action lawsuits against Boyce Hydro and the State of Michigan.
“This entirely preventable disaster has upended the lives and businesses of thousands, forcing residents into crowded shelters amid a pandemic and shutting down already-suffering businesses during a recession,” said attorneys representing one proposed class. “We believe this is yet another case of corporate interests putting profits over people.”
“Despite knowing the threat posed by these unsafe dams, the defendants allegedly refused to pay for much-needed repairs and upgrades. Instead, we allege they chose to try to conceal the deteriorating condition of the dams,” attorneys Frank Petosa of Morgan & Morgan, Elizabeth Graham of Grant & Eisenhofer, and Rob Jenner of Jenner Law P.C. said in a statement. “It’s unacceptable, and we will fight to hold them accountable for the tremendous and devastating harm they have caused.”
In another lawsuit—filed by attorney Michael Pitt—area residents claim that the state mismanaged the dam, then failed to warn residents of imminent risk when heavy rains began assailing the Tittabawassee River. Pitt claims that Michigan effectively robbed the plaintiffs of their land and possessions by not ensuring that the Edenville Dam was in good condition.
“They had obligations under Michigan law to make sure the dam and the dam’s surroundings were handled in a way that protected the interests of the public,” Pitt said. “They completely failed in doing that.”
“The state knew this dam was in extremely poor condition,” he added. “They knew this was what we call an ultra-hazardous dam, which means that if it failed, then people could be killed, property could be lost.”