Suit alleges dam operators knew of safety concerns and neglected warnings for decades
Today, a group of residents and business owners filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against the operators of the Edenville, Sanford and Secord Dams and three Michigan state agencies for what is described as a cataclysmic set of decisions that led to the breach of the Sanford and Secord dams and the collapse of the Edenville dam, causing homes and businesses to be destroyed.
The suit, filed by FeganScott on behalf of the plaintiffs, claims dam owner Boyce Hydro, along with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes Energy and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, failed to operate, fix, or repair the dams in accordance with the established standard of care, resulting in catastrophic injury and damage to residents and their properties.
According to published accounts, the dams’ breach began on May 18 as flood water rose after recent rainfall, forcing thousands of people to evacuate. The lawsuit alleges that the operators and state departments are at fault for the dams’ failure, having ignored warnings from federal regulators and neglected blatant, high-risk issues.
"Thousands of lives have been dramatically altered," said Beth Fegan, one of the founding members of FeganScott. "The fact is, the collapse of the Edenville Dam could have been avoided if the operators had simply followed the requirements of their dam license, which was intended to protect life and property. The operators chose not to increase spillway capacity, and now, small business owners have lost their livelihoods and thousands of families are homeless."
Plaintiff Carol Clarkson resides on the shores of Wixom Lake, and manages Pleasant Beach Mobile Home Resort with her husband. The collapse of the Edenville Dam drained the lake, causing extensive property damage and power outages across the park.
"I’m angry because this wasn’t an act of nature, this is due to neglect and the improper dam operation," said Clarkson. "We’ve poured our heart and soul into transforming this resort, and now people have lost their boats or are pulling out of their vacation rentals. Financially, we’re seriously hurting."
The complaint alleges that individuals and businesses in the community suffered economic, personal and emotional damages due to the dams’ collapse and subsequent flooding. Besides killing business opportunities, other residents’ homes were destroyed or severely damaged by floodwater.
"Residents are going to be up against enormous challenges to rebuild, and on an immediate level, they are having difficulty finding hotels and places to stay in the short term," said Fegan. "More than 10,000 people were forced to evacuate, including at least one nursing home and one retirement community."
According to Fegan, the timing of the failures makes this an especially difficult time for the homeowners and businesses.
"We’re living in a time where everyone is told to just stay home, but so many Michigan residents have seen those very homes destroyed, filled to the ceilings with water," Fegan said. "We’re dealing with two significant historic events that have directly targeted these residents’ livelihoods and safety, and dam owners have needlessly put lives at risk."
The lawsuit alleges three counts of negligence on behalf of the dam owners and operators, noting decades of ignored regulatory condemnations, beginning in 1993. According to the complaint, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) repeatedly warned the operators of the dangers of the 95-year old Edenville Dam, including the risk of catastrophic erosion.
Later that year, FERC further issued a high hazard rating to the dam, citing concern over the dam owner’s failure to address spillway capacity. According to the complaint, FERC communicated that "the potential loss of life and destruction of property and infrastructure is grave, should the project not be maintained and operated appropriately."
In 2018, the Edenville Dam operator’s license was revoked for failure to address safety issues, putting the dams under the oversight of the state departments.
Though the state departments clearly knew of the risks, they also willingly ignored years of inspections and warnings from FERC, even opposing or delaying measures that could have prevented a catastrophe of this magnitude, according to the complaint.
"The operators and state department recklessly put thousands of lives at risk for decades," Fegan said. "It is deeply troubling to know that the operators willfully caused such widespread tragedy. They chose themselves over the well-being of Michigan residents."
Residents and business owners who are interested in learning more about this class-action suit are urged to send their contact information to email@example.com.
FeganScott is a national class-action law firm dedicated to helping victims of consumer fraud, sexual abuse, and discrimination. The firm is championed by acclaimed veteran, class-action attorneys who have successfully recovered $1 billion for victims nationwide. FeganScott is committed to pursuing successful outcomes with integrity and excellence while holding the responsible parties accountable. To sign up for case updates, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Case No. 2:20-cv-11288
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