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Midland-area homeowners file lawsuit against the state of Michigan

Posted at 9:37 AM, May 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-26 09:37:22-04

MIDLAND, Mich. — Four Midland county homeowners filed a class-action lawsuit against the State of Michigan's Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy.

They are seeking damages and other relief for what they claim was "the mismanagement of the Edenville Dam, resulting in a major flood which caused extensive damage to their homes, boats, outbuildings, docks, canopies and other property. "

The Tittabawassee River became engorged late Tuesday, May 19 when the aging Edenville and Sanford dams failed after heavy rain. The river crested Wednesday in Midland, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) north of Detroit. A number of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed.

President Donald Trump declared an emergency Thursday, May 21.

In regards to the Edenville Dam failure, the state of Michigan is denying that it pressured the dam's owner, Boyce Hydro Power, to raise the level of Wixom Lake last month.

Boyce Hydro Power made that claim Wednesday, May 20.

However, on Thursday, the attorney general's office said the state approved the company's request to raise the water levels.

The 28-page complaint was filed in the Michigan Court of Claims, stating: “For decades, federal regulators had demanded changes to the design of the Edenville Dam to improve its ability to withstand flooding, and federal regulators had warned since at least 1993 that the dam failed to meet safety requirements.”

The plaintiffs' attorney, Michael Pitt, is also one of the lead attorneys representing thousands of Flint residents in their class action against the state of Michigan for the actions leading to the lead contamination of the city's public water system.

“By not heeding the specific warnings of federal regulators that Edenville Dam was structurally unsound and at risk of failing, then knowingly allowing the dam to further deteriorate until it failed catastrophically on May 20, EGLE has deprived the owners of the use of their property without just compensation. That neglect and resulting disaster is a clear violation of the Michigan Constitution,” said Pitt, of Royal Oak law firm Pitt McGehee Palmer Bonanni and Rivers.

“Michigan law provides a unique avenue for residents to sue the state in its Court of Claims for damages or destruction to their property. This option is not available for lawsuits filed in the federal court. This case is the only one currently pursuing this unique form of legal redress and remedy on behalf of all residents injured by the Edenville Dam disaster,” said Pitt.

Jim Sperling, one of the plaintiffs and a Trustee and member of the Edenville Township Board, said a local delegated authority, the Four Lakes Task Force, had been established in 2019 by Midland and Gladwin County residents to "administer and oversee the maintenance and operations of four dams and lakes in the area, including the Edenville Dam."

“Our community had been aware and concerned about the poor condition of the Edenville Dam for many years. The potential danger it posed to a huge amount of land and property downriver was understood and a corrective plan was in place,” said Sperling.“Local property owners set up the Four Lakes Task Force, which developed a detailed plan to repair four dams along the river, including the Edenville Dam, less than a mile from our house. Unfortunately, a 500-year flood has changed the plan.”

According to a press release, the relief requested by the plaintiffs includes an order declaring the conduct of EGLE unconstitutional, an injunctive order to remediate harm caused by the defendant, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney fees and expenses.

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