LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is filing a lawsuit against STS Hydropower, LLC, and Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, LLC, following mismanagement of dam repairs on the Kalamazoo River.
AG Nessel reports multiple demands were made by the State of Michigan and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to establish measures that would minimize the drawdowns of environmental impact. However, the demands have not been met according to AG Nessel.
The mismanaged drawdown resulted in hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sediment mobilizing down a stretch of approximately 30 miles of the Kalamazoo River establishing a public safety hazard, harming the aquatic life and habitat, choking, and preventing recreational use of the river.
Due to the hazardous conditions, multiple people have needed rescuing by emergency responders.
“The lack of urgency by the companies to address these hazards left no other alternative than to take this civil action,” Nessel said. “STS Hydropower, LLC, and Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, LLC, should now bear the burden of repairing the damage and being held accountable for neglecting legal obligations.”
AG Nessel reports the deposits in the river span multiple acres with some areas experiencing 12-foot-deep deposits. The Attorney Generals' office estimates that enough sediment was released from the impoundment to cover a football field 173 feet deep in sediment, which is roughly 16 stories tall.
“Our preference is to work cooperatively to ensure prompt and effective cleanups and ensure the environment and the public are protected,” EGLE Director Liesl Clark said. “In this case the responsible party has not fulfilled their obligations to the law and the community.”
AG Nessel’s lawsuit demands refiled under the Michigan Natural resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA) with accountability for the injuries companies caused to the public, damages sustained to the public and natural resources, and ensuring the ability of the public to safely use the river for recreational purposes.
According to AG Nessel the Ingham County Court Filing seeks:
- A declaration that Defendants STS Hydropower, LLC, and Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, LLC, violated Parts 17, 31, 301, 303, 401, and 487 of the NREPA, as well as the common law doctrines of conversion, and public nuisance;
- A declaration that Eagle Creek is the alter ego of STS Hydropower;
- Civil fines;
- Recovery of the full value of natural resource damages;
- A declaration that Defendants’ violations of the common law and NREPA have created an ongoing public nuisance and an order requiring the abatement of the public nuisance;
- An order requiring Defendants to restore and repair the damage they caused;
- The relief authorized by MCL 324.1704, MCL 324.3115, MCL 324.30112, and MCL 324.30316; and
- An order reimbursing the State’s enforcement expenses, including oversight costs, litigation expenses, and attorney fees.
STS Hydropower issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit:
"The conversations between STS and the State of Michigan about the Morrow Dam began in 2019, when we saw an urgent need to avoid what could have been a significant public safety incident. The emergency drawdown of Morrow Lake eliminated the risk of an uncontrolled release of water from Morrow Lake which could have resulted in a downstream disaster similar to other events, in Michigan and elsewhere, where dams suffered unexpected and immediate failure. Although the drawdown has come at significant expense to STS, preserving public safety is our number one priority. Safety is an obligation we owe downstream communities as a responsible neighbor and is in line with our legal obligations.
At the time we identified the deteriorated condition of the spillway gates at Morrow, we immediately notified and maintained frequent consultation with Michigan’s EGLE, the State DNR and federal regulators. At the direction of the State agencies, STS reduced the depth of the drawdown. We also released water at a reduced rate. These are recognized steps in our industry to reduce a drawdown’s impact on sediment transfer and wildlife.
We worked throughout 2020 to successfully replace the Dam’s gates and by early January of 2021, we refilled Morrow Lake. We have spent millions of dollars on project repair, agency-directed mapping and analysis, sediment control and river restoration work. All of these efforts have proceeded in close consultation with the State.
We had been in active settlement discussions with the State for more than a year. Last we heard from the State, there was no reason to believe those conversations would not continue. But almost five months after our last contact, and without any further communication from the State, the State has decided to file suit.
We are still open to a fair resolution – in court or otherwise - that takes into account all the circumstances and the best interest of everyone involved."
The full court filing can be seen below.