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Years before the Edenville dam broke, federal and state warnings went unheeded

Posted at 12:50 PM, May 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-21 13:37:44-04

The devastation wreaked by the collapse of the Edenville Dam followed a 16-year battle between the dam’s owner and federal and state regulators that ultimately failed to bring the dam into compliance.

“They have a long history of violations, of non-compliance. And that doesn’t speak well to the company’s track record,” said Hugh McDiarmid, Jr., a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

RELATED: Feds revoked license for Edenville Dam in 2018 worried it couldn't handle large floods

As far back as 1999, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, said that the dam needed to increase its capacity to prevent a significant flood from overcoming the structure.


Boyce Hydro bought the dam in 2004, but failed to ever make the needed fixes. In 2018, FERC revoked the dam’s license for the dam’s hydro-power generator.

"Boyce Hydro has delayed, disregarded its responsibility, and claimed that it was not financially capable of meeting such requirements,” said FERC’s Deputy Secretary Nathaniel Davis, Sr. in 2019. “Meanwhile, Boyce Hydro continued to benefit from the revenues generated by the project."

When the feds revoked the dam’s license in 2018, it fell off their radar and became the state's responsibility.

Since October 2018, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, or EGLE, says they tried to bring the dam into compliance. Specifically, according to McDiarmid, the state stressed the importance of increasing capacity of the dam’s spillways.

In March, Boyce Hydro was supposed to provide the state with a report that laid out how it would address concerns expressed by the state, including the “inadequate spillway,” McDiarmid said. But the company missed the March deadline.

“We have not yet received that report, so we don’t know what it said,” McDiarmid told 7 Action News.

Over the state’s 18-month oversight of the dam, it got as far as the feds: not very.

“A year and a half did go by, and the same problems existed,” said Channel 7’s Ross Jones.

“Recognize that the federal regulators tried to bring them into compliance for decades,” McDiarmid said. “We were making our best assessment over the course of 18 months,” he said, later adding that “it’s certainly not a satisfactory answer for the communities that are underwater and the people who lost their homes.”

Julie Van Ameyde and her husband live not far from the Edenville dam. At peak flooding, their home was filled with water at chest height. They don’t know how extensive the damage is, but don’t have flood insurance.

“I often wonder if it’s all about the all might dollar here,” she said. “Well, the bill just came due.”