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Federal Court Holds Former Owners Responsible for Edenville Dam Failure; Finds They Hid Warning Signs from State Regulators

LANSING – Today, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan granted the May 25, 2023 motion for summary judgment the Department of Attorney General filed on behalf of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The motion was part of the State’s ongoing enforcement action against the former owners of the Edenville Dam. The east embankment of the dam failed on May 19, 2020, sending a surge of water downstream that resulted in catastrophe for the surrounding communities.

Through the discovery process, the State uncovered key facts previously unknown to the public. In 2010, Boyce Hydro determined that the east embankment of its dam might fail if Wixom Lake rose too high. Boyce Hydro could have fixed the defect, and even made preliminary plans to do so, but neglected to ever follow through. It was that precise part of the embankment that failed in May 2020, just as Boyce Hydro had predicted internally back in 2010. Boyce Hydro never divulged that defect to the State, even though it was required by law to do so. Additionally, Boyce Hydro’s former dam safety engineer and chief operator resigned in protest in May 2017 because Lee Mueller—the person managing Boyce Hydro from his home in Las Vegas—routinely neglected basic dam safety priorities. 

The Court noted that the former dam owners did not dispute any of the State’s evidence. For example, the Court held that “Plaintiffs brought sufficient evidence to show that Defendants knew of its dam’s vulnerability and that Defendants did not make EGLE aware of that vulnerability. Defendants do not dispute either assertion.” The Court also noted that Boyce Hydro “never implemented” a planned “cutoff wall” that “would have been more likely than not to have prevented the failure.”

“It was vital the Court was alerted to these new revelations, and we’re appreciative of the summary judgement granted,” said Nessel. “The State demonstrated dam ownership disregarded threats to the safety and integrity of the dam, and absolutely was responsible for its failure, so much so they had no defense whatsoever.”

Now that the Court has granted the State’s motion against the previous owners, the State plans to seek a money judgment against Mr. Mueller personally.    

A link to the motion filed in May can be found here.

A link to todays order granting summary judgment can be found here.


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