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'There it goes': Video captures Edenville Dam as it is breached in historic flooding

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

"There it goes," said Lynn Coleman, as he watched the Edenville Dam fail on Tuesday and filmed it from high ground.

Coleman has been traveling to Wixom Lake since he was 8 years old, but the view is now vastly different.

"I used to go up there when I was a child and just look out to the lake and when I got older, got my own place there," said Coleman, 56. "Now, it’s like a burned wasteland where the lake used to be."

The Edenville Dam as it breached on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

Coleman, who co-owns Wixom Waters park next to the Edenville Dam, shared videos of the historic flooding in Midland County earlier this week. He and his wife, Arlene, safely made their way past the damaged Curtis Road Bridge and dodged dead fish on Wixom Lake after the breach.

"People were looking at the dam throughout the day and waters had gotten so high, I went up after work," said Coleman, who lives in Elba Township.

Coleman's video, which he provided to The Detroit News, shows the water spewing through cracks in the grass before outpouring through the top of the 54-foot dam and cascading down.

"There was a low spot in the dike and it was obvious that was going to be the point of the breach," he told The News on Saturday. "We stood there maybe five to 10 minutes, and it starting spitting water from the middle. Next thing you know, the mudslide happened."

"I shot the video for 32-seconds or so then turned around and hollered 'did anyone call 911?' "

Coleman's property is on the high side of the dam and was not affected nearly as much as the low side. Still, he and 30 friends volunteered to clean up Stanford through the weekend.

Once the Edenville Dam breached, the Sanford Dam downstream overflowed, causing the 500-year flood, with waters cresting at 35 feet, in central Michigan.

Water levels have declined to 20.8 feet by Saturday. Crews are opening landfills and working on cleaning the area. Officials are asking people to avoid the area and stay off roads and bridges until they can be evaluated when the water subsides.

U.S. Senators Gary Peters, Debbie Stabenow and U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar are expected to meet with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials Saturday for an aerial survey of Midland.

The break came after years of federal scolding over the Edenville Dam's inadequate spillway capacity, among other deficiencies, that eventually led in 2018 to the revocation of the dam's power generation license. Oversight then transferred to the state.

Four months before the Edenville Dam failed, the state discovered the 96-year-old structure didn’t meet even state standards for its capacity to withstand major flooding, according to inspector emails.

More: State found by January that Edenville Dam didn't meet Michigan safety standards

More: First lawsuits over Edenville Dam failure filed in federal court

The final analysis had been expected in March, but an engineer with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) told consultants on Jan. 31 the dam was deficient even without considering the impact of waves on Wixom Lake.

The emails, released by EGLE at the request of The Detroit News, raise new questions about why the state — with the knowledge that the dam likely failed both state and federal capacity standards — rejected the company's request to lower lake levels above the dam last fall. The state went on to sue the company this month over the death of freshwater mussels after it defied state orders and lowered lake levels.

Two lawsuits seeking class-action status over the dam failure were filed Friday, with one suit focusing on the dam’s owners and managers, and another encompassing the dam owners, its manager and the state of Michigan. 

Both lawsuits seeking upwards of $5 million in damages were filed in the federal district court in Detroit and are believed to be the first litigation related to the dam failure. 

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_