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Michigan Dam Safety Task Force calls for millions in spending to prevent another catastrophe

Report calls for revolving loan program and emergency fund to pay for maintenance
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer flies over the collapsed Edenville Dam during record-setting floods on...
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer flies over the collapsed Edenville Dam during record-setting floods on the Tittabawassee River.(WJRT)
Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 3:14 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - Nine months after two Mid-Michigan dams failed and caused a flooding catastrophe, a state task force is calling for significant annual spending to avoid a repeat.

The Michigan Dam Safety Task Force sent its report to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday with recommendations for spending over $23 million a year on preventative maintenance on dams across the state and to create a $5 million fund for emergency repairs.

The report notes that investment and maintenance in Michigan’s dams have not kept pace with needs as the structures reach advanced age.

Michigan has a total of about 2,600 dams and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has records on 1,861 of them. Of those, more than 1,000 dams are at least 50 years old and over 200 are more than a century old.

Michigan has seen 300 confirmed dam failures over the last century. None were larger than the Edenville and Sanford dam failures on May 19, 2020, which sent the contents of Wixom Lake rushing down the Tittabawassee River into Midland and Saginaw Township.

The state currently has only three staff members assigned to the Dam Safety Program, who are in charge of monitoring the status of 2,600 structures in both peninsulas with about $4 billion. The 85 high hazard dams statewide get inspected annually while lower hazard dams get inspected about every five years.

The task force is calling for a $20 million annual revolving loan program for dam owners and operators to seek financial assistance for maintenance. An additional $750,000 annual fund would be available for engineering costs associated with estimating how much dam repair or removal projects would cost.

The report also calls for establishing a $5 million fund for Michigan dam safety inspectors to tap whenever they determine a structure poses an imminent risk and the owner refuses to undertake immediate corrective action.

The task force also asks lawmakers to change Michigan law and set up a process in which dam owners are issued a permit for a limited amount of time. Owners would be required to remove the dam when the permit expires unless it is renewed.

The report includes a recommendation that would require dam owners to buy liability insurance for damage caused by catastrophic failure and to set aside money to remove dams if necessary.

The task force report recommends writing improved emergency action plans for potential dam failures and beefing up security around the structures.

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