TRAVERSE CITY — An engineering firm that oversees the Brown Bridge Dam removal agreed to assume liability for lawsuits that could result from the dam’s October demolition, a city official said in a letter to the firm.
A Feb. 20 letter written by Traverse City Manager Ben Bifoss noted that engineering firm AMEC, the lead contractor on the dam removal, agreed to assume liability for the project. The city believes the prior legal agreement, known as indemnification, protects the city and others from lawsuits that could stem from an Oct. 6 breach during dam removal that flooded the Boardman River and damaged at least 54 properties.
“It means when we get sued for the Brown Bridge, AMEC, with their original contract, agreed to indemnify all of the parties, so that includes all eight members of the (Boardman River Dams) Implementation Team,” Bifoss said. “It means AMEC stands in front of all of the members of the implementation team in terms of both a lawsuit and in terms of any liability.”
Traverse City attorney Kristyn Houle last week said she'll file a lawsuit against all parties on behalf of Boardman River property owners Phil and Barbara Reneaud and David and Pamela Hoyt. The couples said their properties were damaged after the breach and subsequent flooding.
"I haven’t reviewed the contract yet, but generally what (indemnification) means is 'If you get sued for the work I did I’ll defend you against the lawsuit'," Houle said. "As the plaintiff, we are obligated to bring a lawsuit against all necessary defendants."
A project manager for AMEC, Sandra Sroonian, declined comment.
The Boardman River Dams Implementation Team manages the removal of three dams on the Boardman with the goal of returning the river to its natural state. The group includes the city, Grand Traverse County, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality continues to investigate what caused the breach. The investigation appears focused on the failure of a device known as a dewatering structure that was supposed to allow for the slow draining of Brown Bridge pond into the Boardman. Instead, most of the pond rushed into the river in a matter of hours.
A copy of Bifoss' letter to AMEC representatives notes the contract indemnifies the implementation team "from and against claims, liabilities, losses, direct damages, reasonable attorney fees and settlement expenses" arising from bodily injury, death, and damage to or loss of property.
Houle said riverbank testing near the Reneaud and Hoyt properties revealed soil contaminated by arsenic, mercury, manganese and selenium. The implementation team has outlined a plan for state officials to cure any damages to the river.