Michigan residents, businesses sue over dam failures
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.