Midland County residents file lawsuit against state, alleging negligent dam management | Michigan Radio
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Midland County residents file lawsuit against state, alleging negligent dam management

May 26, 2020

A neighborhood under flood waters in Midland, MI
Credit Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

Four Midland County homeowners have filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Michigan. The lawsuit alleges the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) knew about the issues with the Edenville Dam, but did not take action.

The Edenville Dam and the Sanford Dam both failed last week, leading to flooding and evacuations in Midland County. The state has been responsible for the Edenville Dam since 2018, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked Boyce Hydro’s license for the dam due to issues with its inability to safely pass flood flows and its failure to comply with federal standards.

After that, the state (the Department of Environmental Quality at the time) was responsible for its operations. It inspected the dam in October 2018 and deemed it to be in “fair structural condition.”

The plaintiffs are David and Andrew Krieger and James and Margaret Sperling. All four own property on the banks of the Tittabawassee River. The suit claims that not only did the state mismanage the dam, it knew heavy rains were coming and did nothing to warm residents.

Michael Pitt is the attorney representing the plaintiffs. He alleges the state has unconstitutionally taken property from residents because it didn’t do enough to make sure the 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. They completely failed in doing that,” Pitt says.

“The state knew this dam was in extremely poor condition. 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.”

The suit says the Kriegers’ basement was flooded, and the flooding caused them to lose several boats and sheds. It says the Sperlings’ basement flooded as well, in addition to six feet of water in their living and dining areas. Pitt says the plaintiffs are seeking financial compensation for their losses. Pitt says the class action designation is only preliminary, saying, "That status may change. The case could proceed as a joinder or group case where hundreds of people join individual claims into one large lawsuit.“

EGLE did not respond to a request for comment.