State files lawsuit against owner of flooded Michigan dams

click to enlarge Boyce Hydro, LLC owner Lee Mueller, 70, and his wife Michele Mueller, 61, are pictured in Las Vegas, 2019. - REUTERS/TIM REID
Boyce Hydro, LLC owner Lee Mueller, 70, and his wife Michele Mueller, 61, are pictured in Las Vegas, 2019.

Boyce Hydro, LLC, the company formed by Lee Mueller, the heir of the fortune of the founder of the Boy Scouts to be used as a tax shelter (seriously), has been slapped with a lawsuit after its dams flooded last month, causing massive damage in and around Midland.

The lawsuit — filed by the Department of Attorney General on behalf of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) — is seeking compensation, civil fines, and cleanup. The lawsuit will also be followed by a motion to compel Boyce to "immediately comply with a state order to fully inspect potentially dangerous cracks and erosion in a damaged portion of the Edenville Dam that is still standing to determine what steps must be taken to protect public safety," according to a statement from Attorney General Dana Nessel.

“This suit seeks to hold the dam owners accountable for the damage they caused and recoup the money the taxpayers have spent responding to the ongoing emergency created by this devastating flood,” Nessel said in a statement. “We know the owners of the dam, with their long history of neglect, are responsible for the dam’s failure. We can see already the devastating results of their inaction. This suit seeks an order requiring the dam owners to pay to remediate the harm they caused, and to take action to ensure it does not occur again.”

Federal regulators have warned the dams could flood since 1993, and advised the owners to increase spillway capacity. Boyce purchased the dams in the early 2000s as a way to avoid paying $600,000 to the IRS, and ignored the warning, repeatedly clashing with regulators and neighbors in the years since. In 2018, after Boyce continued to ignore its warnings, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked the company's license to generate power.

A group of local stakeholders, also fed up with Mueller, were in the process of purchasing the dam from him.

“Residents on and near Wixom and Sanford lakes formed by the Edenville and Sanford dams, respectively, should be swimming, fishing and boating today instead of recovering debris and staring at mud pits where their lake used to be,” DNR director Dan Eichinger said in a statement. “The wetlands, wildlife and aquatic organisms that are the base of a healthy ecosystem have been destroyed.”

Boyce's lawyers had argued that the state ordered them to raise the dam's water level, but Nessel says that was because the company had illegally lowered the lake levels in 2018 and 2019.

“Boyce themselves sought, and received, permission to elevate Wixom Lake to its legally-required summer level this spring,” said Nessel. “The State did not demand that the level be raised. Boyce has not pointed to any evidence it ever raised the alarm that the summer level posed a risk, and it never took action to seek a lower summer level with EGLE or the courts. Their after-the-fact attempt to rewrite history in the press is pure fantasy.”

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About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland "Lee" DeVito grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, where he read Metro Times religiously due to teenaged-induced boredom. He became a contributing writer for Metro Times in 2009, and Editor in Chief in 2016. In addition to writing, he also supplies occasional illustrations. His writing has been published...
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