EGLE: Owner of failed Midland dams not letting us assess remaining danger

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy cannot adequately assess the remaining danger from two dams that failed May 19, causing major flooding in Midland County, because the dam's owner is not cooperating, an agency spokesman said Thursday.

Boyce Hydro LLC's "cooperation lacks urgency and sufficiency to be able to properly assess the dam's integrity to ensure the safety of the Midland-area residents,"  EGLE spokesman Nick Assendelft said.

While a federal judge after the May flood ordered Boyce to assess the condition of the remaining portion of the Edenville Dam on the Tobacco River, a report prepared by engineers for Boyce states that it does not fulfill the judge's required assessments, Assendelft said.

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The company has also not finalized a contract with an independent team of national dam safety experts convened by EGLE in early June to investigate the May 19 failures of the Edenville and Sanford dams along the Tittabawassee River.

"Boyce has known since shortly after the failures that they would be required to come to terms with the team, and the delay has set back by two months the process to find answers for our Midland-area residents who lost everything when Boyce's dams collapsed," Assendelft said.

Boyce Hydro LLC owns and operates the Edenville, Sanford, Smallwood and Secord dams along the Tittabawassee River. The Edenville and downriver Sanford dams failed amid record rainfall May 19, causing widespread flooding in Midland County. More than 2,500 homes, businesses and nonprofit organizations were damaged or destroyed by the floods, with estimated losses of $175 million.

Asked to comment Thursday, Boyce managing partner Lee Mueller and attorney Dan Curth responded with an emailed statement.

"Contrary to erroneous statements made by governmental entities," Boyce is "proposing to fully fund a forensic investigation to identify the cause of the dam breaches," they said, adding that company officials "welcome and look forward to those conclusions."

Citing ongoing safety concerns, Midland and Gladwin counties are seeking to take ownership of the dams using condemnation and eminent domain. Requests were filed in both counties' circuit courts last week.

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"We need to have the property now to start to address the debris removal and erosion," said Dave Kepler, chairman of the Four Lakes Task Force. The nonprofit group was established by the two counties in 2018 to acquire and manage the four Boyce-owned dams. It was nearing a purchase agreement with Boyce for the dams when the breaches occurred.

Just to stabilize the ongoing erosion and other damage caused by the dam breaches — before getting into costs to rebuild the dams and the Wixom and Sanford lakes they created — "we're looking at about $40 million worth of work," Kepler said.

"And we need to have access to the properties."

Under an eminent domain condemnation procedure, a judge could order the Boyce dams sold to the Four Lakes Task Force as a governmental entity of the two counties, citing ongoing blight or safety concerns. The task force and/or counties would then be required to pay Boyce fair market value for the properties.

Boyce last week filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, as it faces flood-related lawsuits from the state of Michigan and multiple others, including class-action suits from nearby affected property owners.

Contact Keith Matheny: 313-222-5021 or

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