AG’s office releases new information about Edenville Dam failure

Flooding from the 2020 dam breaks in Sanford.
Flooding from the 2020 dam breaks in Sanford.(WNEM)
Published: May. 25, 2023 at 5:55 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WNEM) – The Department of Attorney General (AG) released more information regarding the ongoing enforcement action against the former owners of the Edenville Dam.

The east embankment of the Edenville Dam failed on May 19, 2020, sending catastrophic floods to the surrounding communities.

On Thursday, May 25, the AG’s office said through a discovery process, key facts previously unknown to the public were uncovered.

The state discovered in 2010, Boyce Hydro determined that the east embankment of its dam might fail if Wixom Lake rose too high, adding the defect was fixable, but Boyce Hydro never followed through with its plans to repair it.

That precise part of the dam was the part that failed in 2020, the AG’s office said.

The AG’s office said there was no indication Boyce Hydro told the federal government about this defect, which regulated the dam at the time. It also neglected to tell the government about the defect after regulation was passed on September 2018, the state said.

According to the state, Boyce Hydro’s former dam safety engineer and chief operator resigned in protest in May 2017 – three years before the failure – because Lee Mueller, who was managing Boyce Hydro from his home in Las Vegas, would routinely neglect basic dam safety priorities.

Mueller would instead prioritize side projects, such as holding music festivals or transforming the dam into an RV park, the AG’s office said. The state said the chief operator finally left when Boyce Hydro used resources to dig a pond off-site rather than repair a major safety defect in the Sanford Dam.

According to the state, the chief operator testified that he tried to tell Mueller that Mueller was in the hydro business and needed to pay attention, but Mueller responded, “I’m not in the hydro business… I’m in the money-making business.”

“The Edenville Dam failure was a devastating tragedy for thousands in that community, and these new revelations clearly show that failure began at the very top of Boyce Hydro,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. “We discovered an unconscionable disregard for safety and dam integrity that cost the community that relied on the security of that dam immeasurably, and it’s important we share this with the court today.”

The AG’s office said Mueller and Boyce Hydro made vigorous attempts to keep the enforcement action from moving forward, and once it was underway, they went to great lengths to keep the evidence of the 2010 evaluation hidden.

The state said Mueller’s refusal to obey court orders was so brazen that it “astonished” the judge, leading the court to default Mueller for his “bad faith” and “contumacious conduct.”

The AG’s office filed a motion for summary judgment on Thursday, May 25, and if the court grants the motion, Boyce Hydro will be dismissed from the case because the bankruptcy process Boyce Hydro initiated allows the state to establish the culpability of Boyce Hydro for the failure of its dam, but correctly channels any funds left in Boyce Hydro’s estate to the flood survivors impacted by that failure.

The AG’s office said the state would then pursue a default judgment against Lee Mueller personally.

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