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Bipartisan E&C Leaders Seek Answers on Edenville Dam Breach in Midland, Michigan

Jun 1, 2020
Press Release

Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR), Energy Subcommittee Chairman Bobby L. Rush (D-IL), Energy Subcommittee Ranking Member Fred Upton (R-MI), Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) today sent letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy seeking answers on the Edenville dam breach in Midland, Michigan, which last month forced 10,000 residents to evacuate their homes.  In September 2018, FERC issued an order revoking the Edenville dam’s Federal hydropower license, which passed jurisdiction of the 96-year-old dam to the State of Michigan.

“In addition to the massive property damage caused by the dam’s failure, flooding of contaminated sites and chemical facilities — including one containing a federally-regulated nuclear research reactor — in Midland, Michigan threatened public health and the environment,” the bipartisan group of Committee leaders wrote to FERC. “As you know, the Edenville project and its operator, Boyce Hydro, have a long history of dam safety and compliance problems.  Prior to issuing the [revocation] order, the Commission engaged in a multi-year effort to bring Boyce Hydro into compliance with FERC’s dam safety requirements.  We are concerned that three other projects operated by Boyce within the same river system — the Sanford, Secord, and Smallwood Dams — may present a similar threat to surrounding communities.”

The letter requests information pertaining to both the Edenville dam’s history of safety and noncompliance issues as well as the status of the three other dams in the area.  The bipartisan members are also requesting answers to several questions, including:

  • Whether the three other dams in the area — all licensed by FERC and operated by the same company, Boyce Hydro — present similar compliance issues or safety concerns;
  • Why the dam was allowed to continue operating outside compliance for more than 10 years before FERC revoked its license;
  • Whether FERC consulted with the state when it revoked the dam’s license to explain the Commission’s public safety concerns;
  • What recommendations FERC may have to improve the safety of dams, such as Edenville, that have had their Federal license revoked and that are under the primary jurisdiction of a State agency.

In a separate letter to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, the Committee members requested information about the actions the state has taken in overseeing the Edenville dam prior to and following FERC’s revocation of the hydroelectric license in 2018.

“With Edenville’s FERC permit revoked, regulatory authority passed to the State of Michigan,” the bipartisan members wrote in their letter to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.  “Most states, including the State of Michigan, have established a regulatory program for the safety of dams not under federal jurisdiction.  State dam safety programs typically include safety evaluations of existing dams and periodic reviews.”

The letter requests information pertaining to the state’s actions and authorities to ensure dam safety.  Among other questions, the bipartisan members are requesting answers to the following:

  • What occurred during the period between October 2018 when the State of Michigan found the dam to be in “fair” condition, and January 2020 when a state engineer found the dam did not meet safety standards;
  • What communications the state had with FERC regarding the Edenville dam’s noncompliance and safety issues;
  • What legal and regulatory actions the state took following FERC’s 2018 revocation of the dam’s license, including the May 2020 state lawsuit alleging environmental violations, public nuisance and conversion based upon the lowering of Lake Wixom’s water levels.

A PDF of the letter to FERC is available here and PDF of the letter to Michigan is available here.