Michigan

A year after dam failures and flooding devastated Midland and Gladwin counties, state lawmakers are detailing a sweeping plan to improve dam safety across Michigan.

“The unthinkable happened one year ago in Midland and Gladwin, and this disaster should serve as a wakeup call for our entire state,” said Rep. Annette Glenn, R-Midland. “The resilience and unity shown by our community after this tragedy will serve as inspiration to demand and do better as a state related to dam safety. We must put in the hard work necessary to ensure something like this never happens again anywhere in Michigan.”

Republican sponsors of the plan include Senate Appropriations Chair Jim Stamas of Midland, Sen. Rick Outman of Six Lakes, Rep. Roger Hauck of Union Township, and Glenn. The package also includes Democratic sponsors. Bills will be introduced in the Legislature soon.

“A year ago, heavy rainfall led to the breach of two local dams that literally washed away homes and businesses and caused millions of dollars in flood damage,” said Stamas, R-Midland. “It was heartbreaking to see the devastation facing so many people, especially when almost all of it could have been prevented if improvements to the local dams had been made to ensure they could handle the water levels. As we mark this solemn anniversary, I am sponsoring legislation to help prevent dam failure disasters like we saw a year ago from impacting other communities in our state.”

The $500 million plan would create three funds to provide funding for dam safety projects, including:

The Dam Risk Reduction Revolving Loan Fund for projects prioritizing risk reduction; The Dam Safety Emergency Action Fund for emergency response activities by the state where a dam owner fails to pay for necessary work; and The Emergency Dam Safety Grant Program for dam rehabilitation or removal. The grants would provide matching funds to federal funding or seed money for independent projects.

The new House-Senate plan also includes significant policy improvements, many of them based on recommendations from the Michigan Dam Safety Task Force commissioned after last year’s floods.

“We must do everything we can to ensure that this tragedy never happens to any Michigan community ever again,” said Outman. “We will raise our dam safety standards, inspect more frequently those dams that need the most attention, and ensure that owner maintenance is carefully recorded, not left up to the honor system. Never again should government bureaucracy contribute to such devastation.” 

The legislation will address operational and regulatory gaps that were identified following the failure of the Edenville and Sanford dams in May 2020. Dams deemed to pose more significant safety risks would be inspected more frequently than lower-risk structures. Proof of financial responsibility would be required to help ensure safe operation. Owners would be required to maintain operation, monitoring and maintenance records.

“There has been a lot of talk about the need to address dams after the tragic events we saw take place a year ago and this plan provides the ‘how’,” said Hauck, who represents a portion of Midland County. “Key safeguards and infrastructural investments will put our region on the road to recovery and give our state needed procedures so that we can identify spots of concern and work the problem before tragedy unfolds. This is a sorely needed step for our communities that can be put at risk in an instant.”

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