Michi­gan res­i­dents, busi­nesses sue over dam fail­ures

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS -

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. — Res­i­dents and busi­nesses in cen­tral Michi­gan ar­eas that were sub­merged when two dams failed this week have sued the op­er­a­tor of the dams and two state agen­cies charged with over­see­ing the struc­tures.

The law­suit filed Fri­day came as yet more res­i­dents were forced to evac­u­ate their homes af­ter be­ing over­whelmed by flood­ing along the Tit­tabawassee River and con­join­ing wa­ter­ways.

About a dozen peo­ple have left their homes in Spauld­ing Town­ship, where some roads and fields are un­der 4 to 5 feet of flood­wa­ter, but some in the com­mu­nity re­fused to leave de­spite warn­ings, Fire Chief Tom Fortier said Fri­day. Wa­ter stood 2 to 3 feet deep in some houses, he said.

The Tit­tabawassee be­came en­gorged late Tues­day when the ag­ing Edenville and San­ford dams failed af­ter heavy rain. The river crested Wed­nes­day in Mid­land — 20 miles up­stream from Spauld­ing — leav­ing the area un­der sev­eral feet of wa­ter and forc­ing about 11,000 peo­ple to evac­u­ate.

Sev­eral homes were dam­aged in Mid­land, but no in­juries were re­ported. Selina Tis­dale, a Mid­land spokes­woman, said Fri­day that dis­placed res­i­dents are al­lowed to re­turn if it is safe to do so.

The flooded Tit­tabawassee and Shi­awassee rivers flow into the Sag­i­naw River, and that’s pre­sent­ing a dan­ger for Spauld­ing Town­ship, about 100 miles north of Detroit. “The river lev­els are so high, they are try­ing to find the low­est spot, and that hap­pens to be us,” Fortier said.

The law­suit filed Fri­day in fed­eral court in Detroit al­leges that the dams’ op­er­a­tor, Boyce Hy­dro, “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.” The suit also names the state Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment, Great Lakes and En­ergy, and the Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources.

The law­suit seeks un­spec­i­fied dam­ages in ex­cess of $75,000.

The As­so­ci­ated Press sent an email Fri­day seek­ing com­ment from Boyce Hy­dro. Both state agen­cies de­clined to com­ment, cit­ing the pend­ing lit­i­ga­tion.

The Edenville Dam has been the tar­get of lengthy in­ves­ti­ga­tions by fed­eral reg­u­la­tors. Of­fi­cials have said the San­ford Dam was over­flow­ing but that the ex­tent of struc­tural dam­age wasn’t known.

Dow Chem­i­cal Co. is head­quar­tered in Mid­land, and it has a plant next to the river. When the river crested, the flood­wa­ters mixed with con­tain­ment ponds at the Dow plant and the com­pany ad­mit­ted the flood­ing could dis­place sed­i­ment from a down­stream Su­per­fund site, though it said there was no risk to peo­ple or the en­vi­ron­ment.

The U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency said that state of­fi­cials would eval­u­ate the plant and that Dow must as­sess the Su­per­fund site — con­tam­i­nated with diox­ins the com­pany dumped in the last cen­tury — to de­ter­mine if any con­tam­i­na­tion was re­leased.

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