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6 experts chosen to perform independent forensic investigation of Midland-area dam failures

June 18, 2020

Independent experts in geotechnical engineering, hydraulics, dam safety and dam design will form the independent forensic team to investigate the failures of the Edenville and Sanford dams in May in mid-Michigan.

The team, approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and agreed to by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), had their first meeting virtually on Wednesday, June 17.

The team will begin its dam investigation after entering into a contract with Boyce Hydro LLC. Boyce owns the two dams and will pay all investigation costs. As the members perform their investigation, they may provide interim findings if that might prevent failures at dams of similar design.

“With the knowledge and experience these professionals bring to the independent investigation I am confident that we will get a clear picture of what went wrong with the two dams and why,” said Liesl Clark, EGLE’s director. “Transparency is extremely important as this process moves forward and EGLE is ready to provide any information necessary to help get answers to this tragedy.”

The team members (full biographies provided at end of release) are:

  • John W. France, President, JWF Consulting, who will serve as team leader.
  • Irfan A. Alvi, President and Chief Engineer, Alvi Associates.
  • Henry T. Falvey, President, Henry T. Falvey & Associates.
  • Steve Higinbotham, Hydraulic structures engineer consultant.
  • Arthur C. Miller, Technical Advisor, AECOM.
  • Jennifer Williams, Geotechnical engineer and consultant.

The investigation and submission of a final report can take up to 18 months to complete. The final report will be submitted to EGLE, FERC and Boyce. EGLE regulates the Edenville Dam while FERC regulates the Sanford Dam.

The six team members have extensive experience probing dam failures. Several participated in the investigation of the 2017 failure of the Oroville Dam in California – the tallest earthen dam in the United States.

Clark noted that with the naming of the team, neither EGLE, FERC nor Boyce will influence the outcome of the investigation. EGLE has committed to ensuring the independence of the investigators and will provide all information and data requested by the team to support the investigation.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called for the investigation after the two dams failed. The flooding in the Midland area forced more than 10,000 people to be evacuated. Gov. Whitmer on Monday requested a major disaster declaration for mid-Michigan counties affected by the flooding.

Updates on the investigation will be posted to EGLE’s Edenville Dam Failure webpage, which includes an interactive map of the more than 1,050 state-regulated dams in Michigan.

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Full biographies of the independent dam failure
investigative team members

John W. France (Investigative Team Leader)
President, JWF Consulting

Mr. France has more than 41 years of experience in engineering consulting and design. Most of his technical work for the past 33 years has focused on dams and water retention structures. This experience includes dam safety inspections and analyses, detailed geotechnical and geological field and laboratory investigations, hazard classification, seepage and static stability analyses and evaluations, seismic stability/seismic deformation analyses, conceptual and final designs of new structures, rehabilitation of existing structures, and consultation during construction. He has served on numerous senior technical review boards and panels for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE); the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation; and BC Hydro. He is listed on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) lists of approved Independent Consultants and Potential Failure Modes Analysis (PFMA) facilitators.

Irfan A. Alvi
President and Chief Engineer, Alvi Associates

Mr. Alvi is a nationally recognized expert in dam engineering. Alvi Associates provides services in the areas of structural, water resources, transportation, and geotechnical engineering for bridges, roadways, retaining systems, dams, tunnels, waterways and other infrastructure. The firm has completed many hundreds of infrastructure projects involving new design, remedial design, feasibility and alternatives studies, inspection, nondestructive testing, analysis and forensic investigation.

Alvi Associates is involved in research in the areas of human factors, judgment and decision-making, safety management and systems modeling. This research experience has supported Alvi Associates' involvement in forensic investigations and, in 2017, Mr. Alvi served as a member of the independent forensic team which investigated the spillway failures at Oroville Dam in California.

Henry T. Falvey
President of Henry T. Falvey & Associates

Mr. Falvey consults internationally on the hydromechanics of civil works such as dams, outlets and canals. He is the former head of the Hydraulic Research Section at the Division of Research, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, where he worked in various capacities for 27 years. He recently was part of the forensic investigation team for the Oroville Dam spillway failures. In addition to the Bureau of Reclamation, Mr. Falvey worked for the Swiss Federal Institute and for several years as a faculty affiliate at Colorado State University. He is the author of the book Hydraulic Design of Labyrinth Spillways and has done consulting and design work on numerous spillway and dam projects.

Steve Higinbotham
Hydraulic structures engineer consultant

Mr. Higinbotham has more than 40 years of experience in the design of hydraulic structures for large dams. For the Bureau of Reclamation, Mr. Higinbotham prepared final designs and specifications for spillways and outlet works for numerous dams. As supervisor/manager within the Waterways and Concrete Dams Group of Reclamation, his responsibilities included: Planning, directing and supporting the work associated with safety of dams studies (including risk analyses), appraisal and feasibility level designs, modifications designs for existing facilities, new appurtenant structure and concrete dam designs and special studies and analyses to address problems and concerns. His responsibilities also included inspecting new sites and existing facilities, developing field investigation programs, discussing design and construction issues and coordinating activities between offices; providing a technical review of work within the Waterways and Concrete Dams Group to ensure technical quality and consistency with current standards and policies; and participating on interagency teams to evaluate and develop concepts for the removal of dams and hydroelectric facilities for environmental considerations. Projects included two concrete dams on the Elwha River near Port Angeles, Wash.; Savage Rapids Dam near Grants Pass, Oregon; the lower four Snake River dams in southeastern Washington and the Klamath River dams near Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Arthur C. Miller
Technical Advisor, AECOM

Dr. Miller has more than 45 years of experience in water resources performing research, consulting and publishing in hydrology, hydraulics, floodplain delineation, dam safety, bridge scour, river mechanics, sediment transport and the impacts of climate change. He teaches courses nationally and internationally on topics ranging from fundamental hydraulics, to open channel flow and hydrologic processes.

He has extensive experience with hydrologic and hydraulic models and has taught courses for FERC dealing with many of these models. Additionally, he has taught courses for FEMA on dam safety for more than 20 years. He is contracted by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) as developer and instructor of HEC-RAS, Advanced HEC-RAS, and HEC-RAS 2D, HMS, and GeoHMS for Dam Safety. Dr. Miller is a certified instructor by the National Highway Institute and by The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

He spent a year as a visiting scientist with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station. He served as chair of the Energy Power Research Institute (EPRI) Task Committee on Standards for PMP for Dam Safety Analysis, served on the ASCE Task Committee on Spillway Design Criteria for the Hydrologic Safety of Dams, established and helped write the ASCE National Guidelines for the Hydrologic Safety of Dams and served as chair of a task committee for the FERC that established their dam safety guidelines.

Jennifer Williams
Geotechnical engineer and consultant

Ms. Williams is a licensed professional engineer with more than 20 years of experience managing and leading geotechnical engineering projects. The majority of her professional career has focused on dam safety. She has worked on more than 40 embankment and concrete dams including inspection; risk assessment; field investigations and characterization; seepage, stability and deformation analyses; feasibility and alternatives studies; final design drawings and contract documents; and construction inspection observation. Her design engineering experience includes new dams and rehabilitation design of existing embankment dams for seepage, stability and hydrologic deficiencies. She has been the lead designer on more than 10 dams and containment facilities in the last 15 years. Ms. Williams’ field and construction experience includes preparing and managing the field investigations for earthfill dams; preparation of construction specifications and drawings; and engineer in charge of construction of rehabilitation measures. Her dam safety inspection experience includes serving as the senior engineer/independent consultant for more than 20 dam safety inspections of state and federal regulated dams.