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Dam owners, state warn residents to stay away from Edenville Dam

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

State regulators and the owners of the failed Edenville Dam are warning residents to stay off the structure and surrounding property for the foreseeable future.

Pedestrians should avoid entry onto the site from Hunter Road to the west to where an eastern portion of the dam collapsed May 19, said Lawrence Kogan, a lawyer for dam owner Boyce Hydro Power. 

The warning comes as people in the area have ventured onto the site to walk the drained bottom lands of Wixom Lake, the surrounding embankments or riskier areas in the pursuit of property lost during the flooding. 

A man looks over at what is left of the Edenville Dam at Wixom Lake on May 21.

"Until this inspection report is submitted to the court showing all findings, people are admonished not to be entering the property to walk the dam site, both for personal safety reasons and to prevent the spoilage of evidence for the federal investigation," Kogan said. 

Midland County officials on Tuesday also warned residents to stay off the lakebed due to ongoing erosion that could lead to quicksand and sinkholes. 

"Persons should not be in, on, or around the Edenville and Sanford dams or walking and recreating in the Wixom and Sanford lake beds," the county said in a statement Tuesday evening. 

"Rapid changes in water levels and ongoing flows from Beaverton Dam, the Tobacco River, and other tributaries are creating significant amounts of erosion to the dam structures still remaining and creating sink holes."

Boyce Hydro has been ordered by federal and state regulators to investigate the cause of the May 19 collapse, when historic rain and winds saturated the eastern earthen dike of the Edenville Dam and washed out roughly 900 feet.

Separately, Grand Rapids U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney ordered Boyce Hydro Monday to conduct an immediate inspection of the Tobacco River side of the dam based on allegations of up to 60-foot cracks in the structure and ongoing resident activity in the area. 

"If another storm were to come through the area, the damaged dam presents a grave risk to property and public health," Maloney said while granting the state's request for an order to force the inspection. 

The state asked the judge to issue the immediate order for an inspection because of its concern about the security of the area and has asked local communities to communicate those precautions to residents. 

"For the foreseeable future, people should stay away from all of the affected areas around the dam, both from a safety aspect and from a trespassing aspect, as the bottom lands of the impoundment area are privately owned," said Nick Assendelft, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. 

Boyce submitted a preliminary letter from an engineering firm to the court Monday morning, reporting tension cracks and surface sloughing near the downstream slope of the Tobacco Spillway. The engineering firm recommended weekly monitoring and the construction of a temporary sheet pile wall upstream to move water away from the dam and into the original stream path. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com