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Michigan sues dam owner, seeks compensation for destruction

DETROIT (AP) — The state of Michigan filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the owner of two dams, seeking fines for the destruction of natural resources as well as “gross mismanagement” that preceded a devastating flood in Midland County.

Blame for the May 19 flood, which destroyed at least 150 homes and forced thousands of people to flee, falls squarely on Boyce Hydro Power, Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

“If Boyce would only have abided by state and federal environmental laws, thousands of residents in Midland County and surrounding areas wouldn’t have had their homes, businesses and personal belonging damaged or destroyed,” Nessel said.

The Edenville dam failed during a steady rain, draining Wixom Lake and unleashing the Tittabawassee River, which then overwhelmed the Sanford dam, about 140 miles north of Detroit. The Edenville dam was under federal authority as a producer of electricity, but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission yanked the license in 2018 and passed oversight to the state. FERC said it repeatedly raised concerns about the dam’s ability to prevent flooding during extreme conditions because of an inadequate spillway capacity.

A local group was attempting to acquire the dam and make repairs before disaster struck.

The lawsuit describes the long relationship between the dam and FERC and how the state inherited regulatory control. It seeks a court order requiring Boyce Hydro to repair damage to natural resources, clean up any hazardous sediments, restore wetlands and pay the state for killing fish.

“Malfeasance and mismanagement has decimated the ecosystems of Wixom Lake and Sanford Lake, created mud pits where lakes used to be and caused the deposit of large amount of unauthorized material on bottomlands,” the lawsuit states.