By DAVID EGGERT, Associated Press
LANSING, Michigan (AP) – The state of Michigan has sued the owner and operator of a hydroelectric dam, alleging that its mismanaged drawdown of a lake to make repairs created sediment that smothered a stretch of 30 miles from the Kalamazoo River, hampered recreational use and threatened public safety.
The lawsuit, filed in Ingham County Court on Tuesday, seeks compensation for damages and fines as well as an order to restore the Morrow River and Lake ecosystems and clean up sediment deposits that, in some places, have a depth of 12 feet. The defendants are Eagle Creek Renewable Energy and its subsidiary STS Hydropower, owner and operator of the dam in Comstock Township, Kalamazoo County.
“The companies’ lack of urgency to address these dangers left no alternative but to pursue this civil action,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement.
Liesl Clark, director of the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, said he preferred to work cooperatively to ensure quick and effective cleanups, but “in this case, the responsible party is not ‘failed to fulfill his obligations to the law and the community’.
The companies’ parent company is Ontario Power Generation, which is owned by the government of Ontario, Canada, according to the lawsuit.
In a statement, STS Hydropower said the emergency drawdown of the lake – which began in the fall of 2020 – enabled repairs that eliminated the risk of a dam failure that could have caused disastrous flooding. He said he reduced the depth of the drawdown at the direction of state agencies and released water at a reduced rate until the lake fills in early 2021.
STS said it had been in talks with the state for more than a year, but was sued nearly five months after their last contact.
“We are always open to a fair resolution — in court or otherwise — that takes into account all of the circumstances and the best interests of everyone involved,” the company said.
The lawsuit alleges the sediment trapped deer and, in one case, a man who had to be rescued. It has also reduced water quality, smothered critical wildlife habitat and restricted public boat access to the river, according to the state.
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