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Forensic investigation of flooding, breaches at Michigan dams moves forward

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) said today an independent forensic investigation team is now able to move forward with its examination of the May 19, 2020, failures of the Edenville and Sanford dams and operations of Smallwood and Secord dams near Midland, Michigan.

The team was hired under contract with FERC after the owner of the dams, Boyce Hydro, failed to contract with the investigators by July 13 as ordered by FERC. FERC and Michigan EGLE determined that the people of Michigan and public safety interests deserve expeditious action to gather a full and accurate accounting of what occurred.

The forensic team will operate completely independently of FERC and EGLE to conduct the investigation and prepare one report to cover all four dams, which are on the same river system. The team includes: John France, PE (team chair, Geotechnical and Emergency Action Planning); Irfan Alvi, PE (Human Factors and Structural); Jennifer Williams, PE (Geotechnical); Steve Higinbotham, PE (Hydraulic Structures); and Arthur Miller, PhD, PE (Hydraulics and Hydrology, Reservoir Operations).

On May 20, FERC directed Boyce Hydro, the operator and licensee for the projects, to create the team to investigate the Sanford, Smallwood and Secord dams, all of which are under FERC jurisdiction. On May 28, EGLE required the FERC-approved team to also perform a forensic investigation of the breach of the Edenville Dam, which is under EGLE jurisdiction.

FERC’s May 20 letter granted Boyce Hydro seven days to form an independent forensic team. Following a request for additional time from Boyce Hydro, FERC and EGLE approved the team members. On July 8, FERC required the dam owner to provide, by July 13, documentation of fully executed contracts for the team to begin its work. Boyce Hydro has not responded to the July 8 letter.

The forensic investigation is separate from both the Association of State Dam Safety Officials’ examination of EGLE’s Dam Safety Program, and a continuing assessment of the structural integrity of the remaining portion of the Edenville Dam.

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