Lawsuit Seeking Class Action Status Filed on Behalf of Homeowners Against Defendants Responsible for Michigan Edenville Dam Collapse

Marko Law, PLLC, a Michigan Civil Rights and Employment law firm, and Nichols Kaster, PLLP, a Minnesota Civil Rights and Employment law firm, announced a lawsuit filed against Boyce Hydro Power, LLC, Boyce Hydro, LLC, Boyce Michigan, LLC, and Edenville Hydro Property, LLC, who owned, operated, and/or maintained the Sanford and Edenville Dams situated on the Tittabawassee River in the state of Michigan.

On May 19, 2020, after heavy rainfall, the Edenville Dam collapsed, resulting in massive flooding spilling out towards Midland, Michigan, leaving tens of thousands forced to evacuate as their homes became submerged in water. The homes directly surrounding Wixom Lake, once beautiful lakeside properties, now abut a barren mud pit. Over 10,000 people in Midland County have found themselves displaced—their surrounding homes underwater or severely damaged. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced an “emergency declaration” on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

The Edenville Dam, built-in 1925, is located in Michigan’s Gladwin County, approximately 25 miles west of Saginaw Bay. The Dam impounds both the Tittabawassee River and its tributary the Tobacco River, resulting in the formation of Wixom Lake. The Dam was created to generate hydroelectric power and for flood control. Shortly after the Edenville Dam broke, the floodwaters overtopped the Sanford Dam.  Although the Sanford Dam did not break, it did not stop or otherwise prevent the floodwater from the north, from reaching the City of Midland or to property owners’ homes that abut waterways connected to the Tittabawassee River.

In November 2017, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked Defendants’ license for the dam, noting that Commission staff have worked with the Defendants for over 13 years to address this problem but to no avail. The Commission again noted in 2018 that “Boyce has repeatedly failed to comply with requests by the Regional Engineer . . . to address the fact that the project spillways are not adequate to pass the probable maximum flood, thereby creating a grave danger to the public.”  In re Boyce Hydro Power, LLC, 2018 WL 305524, at 2.

Defendants have publicly acknowledged that “the federal government had voiced concerns from 1993 through 2018 about the Edenville Dam’s unsafe condition, specifically ‘the risk of catastrophic erosion from overtopping due to inadequate spillway capacity.’” Beth LeBlanc, “Dangers of Edenville dam failure evaded state scrutiny,” The Detroit News (May 20, 2020).

“This was not an unforeseen event,” says renowned Attorney Jonathan R. Marko. “Defendants, for decades, have been aware that Edenville Dam did not comply with regulations and posed a significant risk to local communities. This was a disaster waiting to happen and Defendants should answer for the tens of thousands of people who have lost or sustained damage to their homes during an already difficult time.”

Matt Morgan, a well-known class attorney from Minnesota, stated that "Boyce owned and managed a ticking time bomb, knowing full well the devastation these dams could cause in the event of a major flood.  It deferred necessary maintenance and repairs, putting their greed before the safety of local residents. It should be held accountable.”

This lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, on behalf of homeowners directly impacted by Defendants’ conduct, includes claims for negligence, nuisance, and trespass. Plaintiffs are represented by Detroit attorney Jonathan R. Marko and Minneapolis attorneys Matthew H. Morgan and Rebekah L. Bailey.

Bridge photo by Dale G. Young