EDENVILLE, MI — The ‘500 year flood’ that devastated the Midland area came after just 7 inches of rain.
But it was enough rain to overtake the Edenville Dam causing a chain reaction that lead to the failure of the Sanford Dam and massive flooding. Lakes were left dry while homes were underwater.
More than 10,000 people had to evacuate. While no lives were lost, more than 2,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Roads, bridges and businesses that stood in the way of the floodwaters were also damaged.
The waters have subsided, and what’s left are lawsuits and questions. The biggest one: Who is responsible?
Below is a list of key events preceding and following the dam’s failure:
1925: The 6,600-foot Edenville Dam is built.
June 2004: Wolverine Power Corporation transfers licenses for the Sanford, Edenville, Secord and Smallwood dams to Synex Michigan, LLC, later named Boyce Hydro. The Edenville and Sanford dams would later both fail during heavy rains in May 2020.
December 2005 – October 2015:
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) meets with Boyce Hydro multiple times to work out a plan for various repairs. It also issues Boyce Hydro numerous violations including:
- December 13-16, 2005: FERC says its staff met with Boyce Hydro to work on increasing the spillway capacity to meet the probable maximum flood requirements.
- May 22-23, 2007: FERC says its staff met with Boyce Hydro to work on increasing the spillway capacity to meet the probable maximum flood requirements.
- July 9-11, 2007: FERC says its staff met with Boyce Hydro to work on increasing the spillway capacity to meet the probable maximum flood requirements.
- March 19-20, 2008: FERC says its staff met with Boyce Hydro to work on increasing the spillway capacity to meet the probable maximum flood requirements.
- February 4-5, 2009: FERC says its staff met with Boyce Hydro to work on increasing the spillway capacity to meet the probable maximum flood requirements.
- February 9, 2009: FERC sends Boyce Hydro a letter accepting their proposal to make repairs and upgrades to the Edenville Dam spillway over the course of three years, starting in 2010. The FERC says Boyce Hydro did not perform the repairs and upgrades.
- September 13, 2010: FREC sends Boyce Hydro, LLC a Violation Notice Request for Information about the construction of fishing piers, filling and dredging bottomlands, dredging, filling and draining wetlands, and grading in the floodplain.
- January 13, 2011: FREC sends Boyce Hydro, LLC a Second Violation Notice Request for Information.
- August 22, 2012: FREC issues violation notice to Boyce Hydro for failing to apply for Notice of Coverage. A Notice of Coverage is a type of Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Control permit. It’s needed before a property owner can move change the landscape to control sedimentation runoff or impacts to wetlands.
- March 6, 2013: FREC sends another violation notice to Boyce Hydro for failing to apply for Notice of Coverage
- September – November 2013: FREC sends Boyce Hydro a series of letters regarding issues with the Edenville Dam. Boyce Hydro then proposes to construct two auxiliary spillways, one in 2014 and one in 2015, but the work is never completed, according to FREC documents.
- July 7, 2015: FREC sends Boyce Hydro LLC another violation notice, this time for unauthorized dredging and filling in the floodplain and on bottomlands; failure to implement adequate soil erosion measures resulting in unauthorized discharge; and dredging, filling and draining of wetlands. DEQ offers Boyce Hydro an Administrative Consent Agreement that would include restoration of the dam.
- October 27, 2015: FREC issues Boyce Hydro a violation notice for failure to apply for Notice of Coverage.
January 2011: Boyce Hydro owner Lee Mueller publicly states that the company will not pay for an $83,000 repair project on the Sanford Lake Dam. He argued that it is the responsibility of the property owners and businesses that benefit from the dam to make the repairs.
June 15, 2017: The FERC issues Boyce Hydro a compliance order requiring them to fix the Edenville Dam’s insufficient spillway capacity. According to the order, “The licensee has shown a pattern of delay and indifference to the potential consequences of this situation. A situation that mist be remedied in order to protect life, limb, and property.”
November 20, 2017: FERC orders Boyce Hydro to cease operations for allegedly violating the Federal Power Act and the June 15 compliance order.
2018: The Michigan Infrastructure Report Card, assessed by the American Society of Civil Engineers, gives Michigan’s dams a C- grade. The report cites the need for more than $225 million to take care of the state’s 2,521 dams. 271 of those dams are over 100 years old. 12-percent of Michigan dams have a “high” or “significant” hazard potential rating. 67 percent of the state’s dams are past their 50-year design life.
September 10, 2018: FREC revokes the Edenville Dam license as a hydroelectric generating facility. Meaning it can no longer use the dam to generate power. Once it did this, jurisdiction over the dam now fell on EGLE. The FREC sites continued lack of compliance with repair requests and failing to meet safety standards.
September 2018: Boyce Hydro attempts to fight the FREC’s revocation of its license in court. In an email to MLive, Boyce Hydro owner Lee Mueller said the “problem behind the problem” of noncompliance is because of the economic circumstances and that Boyce Hydro “simply has not had the financial ability in the last eight years” to pay for the required Probable Maximum Flood mitigation construction limitations with Consumers Energy under the State of Michigan’s energy policies and regulatory structure.”
October 2018: DEQ accuses Boyce Hydro, LLC of conducting a major drawdown of Wixom Lake without getting the proper permits. Boyce Hydro says it opened the gates as a preemptive safety measure to ensure dam safety during winter conditions. But the state says the drawdown was intended by Boyce Hydro to avoid paying for winter ice build up maintenance, not as a measure of downstream safety concern.
October 2018: EGLE’s inspection of the Edenville Dam rates it as “fair,” despite FREC revoking Boyce Hydro’s license as a hydroelectric generating facility a month earlier.
January 4, 2019: Boyce Hydro provides the state with a signed letter from their engineers stating that the dam did meet spillway capacity requirements.
Spring 2019: Boyce Hydro agrees to raise the water levels to its normal summer level. It said in a later press release that it did so following pressure from shoreline residents of Wixom Lake, EGLE and Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
April 24, 2019: Four Lakes Task Force (FLTF) and Boyce Trusts announce that they’ve reached a tentative agreement for FLTF to buy Wixom, Sanford, Secord and Smallwood Dams and lake bottoms for $9.4 million. The agreement also calls for Boyce Trusts or FLTF to make repairs and upgrades on all the dams by the end of 2023.
June 2019: Edenville Dam inspection, done by the Spicer Group, begins on behalf of the Four Lakes Task Force.
September 25, 2019: Boyce Hydro applies for a permit from EGLE to lower the water levels of Wixom Lake by approximately 8 feet.
November 12, 2019: Boyce Hydro begins the drawdown without having received the permit it had applied for.
November 25, 2019: EGLE’s Water Resources Division and the Michigan DNR deny Boyce Hydro’s permit. In a letter to Boyce Hydro owner, Lee Mueller, the state sites concerns about potential ecological effects.
February 12, 2020: EGLE issues a permit to Boyce Hydro for specific repairs: rehabilitate deteriorated concrete and steel reinforcement at the spillway piers and pier noses of the Tittabawassee and Tobacco spillways, put approximately 12 cubic yards of new concrete fill in approximately 372 square feet of repair areas, install new hoist connection plates at all six spillway gates. The permit does not authorize any drawdown or refilling of the Wixom Lake Impoundment. The permit makes note that EGLE had previously found Boyce Hydro in violation of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA) for using the dam to lower the Wixom Lake Impoundment below its authorized winter level without a permit.
March 2020: The Four Lakes Task Force inspection is complete, but the report is not finished.
April 29, 2020: Boyce Hydro sues the state in Grand Rapids federal court “arguing the state lacks scientific validation for its endangered species concerns and should allow drawdowns.”
May 1, 2020: Attorney General’s Office files a lawsuit against Boyce Hydro in Ingham County Circuit Court. It accuses Boyce Hydro of dramatically lowering the water levels of Wixom Lake in 2018 and 2019, destroying thousands of freshwater mussels. It also claims the alleged drawdowns dewatered the wetlands that depend on Wixom Lake and damaged other natural resources.
May 15, 2020: Boyce Hydro says it began lowering the water levels in the impoundments behind the Secord, Smallwood, Edenville and Sanford dams in anticipation of incoming major storms.
May 17, 2020: Storms bring heavy rainfall across the lower peninsula. The heaviest rain fell in the northeast and north-central part of Lower Michigan. Gladwin, a city about 25 miles north of Edenville saw 4.13 inches of rainfall by May 19.
12:22 a.m. May 19, 2020: Midland County Central Dispatch issues an alert telling residents in Edenvile Township to leave their homes due to an “imminent dam failure” at the Edenville Dam. Those that live along Sanford Lake and Wixom Lake were told to vacate their homes and go to shelters.
5:00 a.m. May 19, 2020: The Tittabawasse River reaches 26.5 feet high. Anything above 24 feet is considered flooding.
6:50 a.m. May 19, 2020: Midland County Emergency Management determines the Edenville and Sanford dams are structurally sound but that the dams can not control or contain the water flowing through spill gates anymore.
Aprox 5:00 p.m. May 19, 2020: Flood alert goes out across Midland area.
Before dark May 19, 2020: Edenville Dam fails causing flash flood conditions. Emergency text goes out: “MIDLAND CITY RESIDENTS WEST OF EASTMAN SOUTH OF US-10 NEED TO EVACUATE DUE TO DAM COLLAPSE.” The initial dam breach causes the Sanford Dam to flow over and the Tittabawassee River to overflow its 24-foot flood stage.
Aprox. 8:00 p.m. May 19, 2020: The M-30 bridge in Wixom Lake collapses while residents begin arriving at Midland High School after being evacuated from their homes.
May 19, 2020: Governor Gretchen Whitmer declares a state of emergency for the city of Midland and Midland County due to severe flooding.
Aprox. 4:00 a.m. May 20, 2020: National Guard units from Bay City, Saginaw, Port Huron, and other areas comprising about 130 soldiers, arrive in affected areas and begin missions.
6:35 a.m. May 20, 2020: The Poseyville dike breaks and Midland County Central Dispatch sends out an alert urging residents on Ashby between Poseyville and Patterson roads to evacuate.
7:00 a.m. May 20, 2020: National Weather Service says the flood stage is over 34 feet and rising.
June 2, 2020: Lawsuits against Boyce Hydro begin to pile up. Two class action lawsuits against Boyce Hydro and owner Lee Mueller are filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District. The residents want punitive damages for personal an emotional injuries, as well as property and economic damage.
June 1, 2020: The Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce opens an inquiry into what caused the Edenville Dam to fail by sending EGLE director Liesl Clark a letter requesting responses to questions about the state’s oversight of the dam.
June 9, 2020: State files lawsuit in Ingham County Circuit Court against Boyce Hydro seeking damages as a result of the dam failure. Boyce Hydro claims the state pressured it to keep elevated water levels on Wixom Lake despite concerns about the lake’s ability to handle flooding.
June 10, 2020: EGLE announces during a joint state Senate committee hearing that it had begun the process of hiring a third-party investigator to look into the Edenville Dam failure.
June 11, 2020: State releases Edenville Dam inspection report done by the Spicer Group. The dam was inspected for the Four Lakes Task Force from June 2019 to March 2020. The report finds that the dam wasn’t capable of meeting state capacity standards at the time of its collapse. It ranks the dam as “fair to poor” condition.
June 15, 2020: Governor Gretchen Whitmer sends letter to President Donald Trump asking him to declare mid-Michigan floods a “major disaster.” In a news release, Whitmer says the flooding has cost residents more than $190 million in losses and $55 million in response costs and public infrastructure damage.
June 16, 2020: A federal judge orders Boyce Hydro owner, Lee Mueller, to hire an engineer to perform an inspection of the site and “immediately determine whether the risk posed by the Tobacco River side of the Edenville Dam is substantial enough that immediate actions should be taken to mitigate the risk to public safety, natural resources, and public transportation and what that action should be.”
June 17, 2020: State and federal regulators agree on a six-person team of engineers to lead an investigation into the Edenville and Sanford dam failures.
June 23, 2020: State lawmakers hold a joint committee meeting with three officials from the FERC. State Senators criticized the federal regulating body for saying it didn’t levy fines against Boyce Hydro for failure to make repairs because Boyce Hydro claimed to be unable to afford the repairs.
July 28, 2020: The state Senate Energy and Technology and Senate Environmental Quality committees meet with the president of the Four Lakes Task Force board and principal engineer with the Spicer Group. The pair estimated that it would take around $340 million to repair the dam infrastructure and surrounding areas.
July 30, 2020: State announces that it is hiring a third dam safety inspector as part of its mission to increase dam safety in the state. EGLE also announces there will be a review of the state’s dam safety operations, performed by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.
July 31, 2020: Amidst a sea of lawsuits, Boyce Hydro. LLC and Boyce Hydro Power, LLC file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Aug. 11, 2020: Residents and commercial property owners file a lawsuit in the Michigan Courts of Claims against EGLE, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for “their failure to properly regulate and supervise the Edenville and Sanford dams, which ultimately led to the severe flood damage sustained by nearly 300 clients.”
More From MLive:
State worried about safety at remaining Edenville Dam portion
Edenville Dam owner files for bankruptcy
Rural store tries to hang on after flood washes out bridges and flow of customers to Edenville
Six-person engineering team to probe Edenville, Sanford dam failures