Federal Court orders $119 million judgment against former Edenville Dam owner, operator30 November 2023
The US District Court for the Western District of Michigan issued a substantial monetary judgment of $119,825,000 against Lee Mueller, the former owner and operator of the Edenville Dam, for his role in the 2020 catastrophic dam failure. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel made the announcement following the court's decision, emphasizing the significance of holding accountable those responsible for endangering public safety and infrastructure.
The Department of Attorney General had filed a motion seeking judgment on behalf of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in their pursuit of justice for the communities affected by the Edenville Dam disaster.
Nessel stated: "The dam’s ownership completely disregarded imminent threats to the safety and integrity of the dam, and as the State clearly demonstrated before the Court, Lee Mueller and his business were responsible for the disaster that struck Edenville and other area communities. This nearly $120 million judgment is important, both as a measure of accountability to the community Mueller devastated and as a deterrent to other owners of critical infrastructure."
Governor Gretchen Whitmer, reflecting on the aftermath of the 2020 dam failure, expressed gratitude for the collaborative efforts to rebuild the affected communities. She acknowledged the resilience of Michiganders and thanked Attorney General Nessel for leading the prolonged legal efforts to bring justice to those who suffered due to the dam failure.
Phil Roos, Director of EGLE, stressed the avoidable nature of the Edenville Dam failures and highlighted the court's declaration that owners of critical infrastructure must prioritize the safety of the community and the environment. EGLE remains committed to supporting the community through permitting replacement structures as the rebuilding process continues.
The judgment marks the conclusion of the State's civil enforcement action against Lee Mueller and his companies, who owned and operated the Edenville Dam. The legal proceedings began in June 2020, following the dam's east embankment failure on May 19, 2020, leading to a catastrophic surge of water downstream. The court had previously ruled in February that Mueller himself was responsible for the failure and later in October that his company, Boyce Hydro, shared responsibility. The court's ruling noted that the State had presented sufficient evidence demonstrating the defendants' awareness of the dam's vulnerability and their failure to inform EGLE of that vulnerability, assertions not disputed by the defendants.
Edenville Dam failed in May 2020. Image courtesy of EGLE Water Resources Division