Docks along the shores of Wixom Lake appear to be on the edge of a canyon as the water from the lake drained south after the Edenville Dam failed sending floodwaters south to the communities of Sanford and Midland.
The controversial owner of four dams in Midland and Gladwin counties — including two that failed in May, causing catastrophic flooding — has agreed to give up ownership of the dams to a two-county group of lakefront owners.
The Four Lakes Task Force, a property owners’ group established by the Midland and Gladwin county boards of commissioners to oversee the dams and the impoundment lakes they created, on Wednesday announced a settlement of condemnation proceedings with dam owner Boyce Hydro LLC.
Boats on dries Wixom Lake shore near Edenville Dam in Edenville, Wednesday, May 27, 2020. (Photo: Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press)
Under terms of the agreement, which must be approved by circuit courts in both counties, the task force will pay $1.576 million to take over ownership of the dams. Some $270,000 of that money will go to Boyce Hydro; $152,000 will go to local suppliers with liens on Boyce properties, and the remaining $1.154 million will be distributed as the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Bay City ultimately sees fit. Boyce filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the court in August.
“The settlement is not about the value of the property, or fairness, but it is the best deal we could get to allow the community to extract itself from the legacy of Boyce’s ownership and move forward,” the Four Lakes Task Force said in a statement.
The Edenville Dam, a 6,600-foot earthen embankment up to 54.5 feet in height, spanning both the Tittabawassee and Tobacco rivers in Midland and Gladwin counties, failed May 19 amid days of record rainfall. The subsequent draining of Wixom Lake, the impoundment created by the dam, overwhelmed the Sanford Dam downriver, which also failed, mostly draining the Sanford Lake impoundment as well. Downriver areas were declared a federal disaster area, with more than $175 million in flood damage.
Boyce Hydro had its hydro power-generating permit revoked by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in September 2018, the agency citing the dam owner’s repeated failure to address safety concerns at the dam — especially its ability to withstand heavy rains.
Boyce attorney Lawrence Kogan did not respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday.
The Four Lakes Task Force was created by Gladwin and Midland counties in 2018 to administer and oversee the maintenance and operations of the four Boyce dams and the four lakes they create — Smallwood, Secord, Sanford and Wixom lakes. In January, the task force signed a $9.4-million purchase agreement to acquire the dams and lakes from Boyce Trusts. According to the task force’s website, the title for the dams was to be held in escrow and transferred no later than 2024, with Boyce or the task force to “perform the necessary repairs or upgrades on all dams by the end of 2023.”
May’s flooding scuttled that deal.
The task force is funded by a $350 special assessment on property owners along the lakes, with an $88 fee for nearby property owners off the lake, that will start beginning on winter 2021 tax bills. The task force wants to take over hydroelectric power generation at the dams, which would defray the costs passed on to property owners.
To repair and modernize the dams and restore the drained lakes, the task force is estimating lakefront residents will face annual assessment fees of nearly $1,500 to almost $2,400 — every year for 40 years.
The Four Lakes Task Force’s takeover of the dam properties is expected to help facilitate the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy’s efforts to assess and stabilize the remaining portions of the dams, to prevent further failures and flooding. EGLE officials have expressed criticism of Boyce Hydro’s level of cooperation since the dam failures, and EGLE in August took its own emergency action to evaluate the remaining portions of the Edenville Dam.
Wixom Lake’s draining in the May flood on the Tittabawassee River side of the Edenville Dam led to diversion of the nearby Tobacco River, leading to the collapse of the M-30 causeway bridge and causing to run dry about a mile of the Tobacco downstream of the dam. Because the Tobacco River side of the Edenville Dam is still holding back a significant amount of water, EGLE officials want to shore up the dam over the winter, before spring runoff creates another flood disaster.
EGLE hired engineering firm AECOM to design temporary measures to reduce the risk of failure, stabilize the dam and mitigate ongoing impacts such as erosion.
“The project that will be carried out will result in increased safety for the downstream residents, and a restoration of a portion of the downstream resources that were damaged by the initial dam failure,” Teresa Seidel, director of EGLE’s Water Resources Division, said in an online meeting with area residents earlier this month.
A bankruptcy court hearing on the proposed settlement is slated for Nov. 30. The task force has immediate access to the dams for repairs through EGLE, and expects to take control of the properties in December.
“Four Lakes has an operations team in place that has been working for several weeks to plan the transition,” the task force said in its statement Wednesday.
Contact Keith Matheny: 313-222-5021 or email@example.com.
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