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Michigan attorney general filed lawsuit against dam owner Boyce Hydro this month

(WJRT)
Published: May. 21, 2020 at 11:50 PM EDT
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(05/21/20) - More than two weeks before the Edenville Dam collapse, the Michigan attorney general sued its owner over a dispute about illegally drawing down lake levels.

The State of Michigan filed

against 10 defendants, including Boyce Hydro LLC and its co-manager Lee Mueller on May 1.

In the lawsuit, the state alleges that Mueller and company opened the gates of the Edenville Dam and lowered the level of Wixom Lake by about eight feet for an extended period in 2018 and 2019.

The two drawdowns reportedly caused the death of federally endangered aquatic life, and the drawdowns were not authorized by the Michigan deparments of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy (EGLE) or Natural Resources (DNR).

ABC12 previously reported that the dam was being regulated by EGLE since it was not producing power. The federal government revoked the owner's license to produce power from the dam in 2018.

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Mueller applied for a drawdown permit in 2019. His request was denied, but he still went on to lower the water levels anyway.

"A copy of their application and EGLE’s denial show that Boyce Hydro was not, as they seem to suggest, trying to permanently draw down the lake out of fear of flooding," Attorney General Press Secretary Ryan Jarvi said in an email to ABC12 News. "They were trying to avoid the expense -- incurred by the other hydroelectric dams in Michigan -- of developing the means to safely fight ice in ways other than simply draining the impoundment."

But on April 9, Boyce Hydro received approval from the state to raise the level of Wixom Lake to normal summer pool elevation for the spring of 2020. Then on May 19, the Edenville Dam broke.

According to published reports, Boyce Hydro claims it was pressured by the state to raise the water levels.

Jarvi isn't sure why the company believes it was pressured, but says the state was concerned when granting permission for Boyce Hydro to refill the lake "because Boyce Hydro was hesitant to promise that it wouldn’t just drop the level again in winter 2020, thus further damaging the state’s natural resources."

But the state allowed the company to raise the water levels after he agreed to several conditions.

In the lawsuit -- filed just a couple of weeks before the dam failures -- the sate believes there should be fines and financial relief paid by the company for the damage to the public's natural resources. In the suit, the state says they also want to make sure this doesn't happen again.

Since the dam failures the state has yet to take legal action, but the governor has indicated it could come to that if there has been negligence.

ABC12 reached out to Boyce Hydro and Lee Mueller for comment and have yet to hear back.