One year after flooding from the May 19, 2020, failures of dams in Gladwin and Midland counties displaced tens of thousands and destroyed homes and businesses, the devastated communities are slowly recovering.
Today, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist were joined by Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) Director Liesl Clark and others at a cleanup and recovery event in Sanford, one of the communities hardest hit by the disaster, to mark the anniversary.
"The Sanford community has shown extraordinary strength and grit as they faced a historic flood amidst the COVID-19 pandemic," Gov. Whitmer said. "I am so proud of how the community has pulled together and my administration is committed to aiding their recovery however we can. There is still a lot of work to be done, and we will continue to work together to support those affected by last year's historic flood as they rebuild their lives."
EGLE Director Liesl Clark said the power of water and the resulting damage due to the flooding is apparent today and will long shape the impacted communities. "To see some of the progress that has been made in this community is inspiring, considering all the residents have gone through," Clark said. "EGLE stands ready to continue its support of families and businesses in Mid-Michigan and to work closely with local officials on recovery efforts."
Also participating in the clean-up were Michigan Department of Transportation Director Paul Ajegba and Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Eichinger.
EGLE continues to assist the affected communities in recovery efforts and future planning through its work such as water quality monitoring, helping local officials expedite debris removal, restoration of drinking water infrastructure, assessing and mitigating continued natural resource damages and assisting with disaster relief applications.
Most recently, EGLE oversaw emergency work to draw down water levels in the Tobacco River upstream of the remaining portion of the Edenville Dam to help protect downstream residents and properties from further damage during potential flooding events in the future.
Clark said Monday that with the help of Gov. Whitmer and the Legislature, the department is also moving forward on recommendations from external reviews of its dam safety program and regulatory oversight of dams, including hiring additional staff that allowed the creation of a separate Dam Safety Unit within EGLE's Water Resources Division.
"A year has passed, but for the families and businesses affected by the dam failures it surely feels like only yesterday," Clark said. "We had personnel literally on the dam just prior to its failure, and since then we've engaged continually with community leaders to provide scientific, logistical and technical support to help them recover from this disaster."
With support from the Legislature, the reorganized Dam Safety Unit will soon have five full-time-equivalent staff to oversee more than 1,100 state-regulated dams, doubling the resources available at the time of the dam failures last year. Ideal staffing, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials' (ASDSO) recommendations and supported by the Michigan Dam Safety Task Force's report, would be 11 full-time personnel devoted solely to dam safety.
"The recovery and restoration efforts at Edenville are still top of mind for us every day, while at the same time we are working hard to help ensure there is never a repeat of this disaster," Clark said.
She added that she looks forward to working with legislators on recommendations from the Dam Safety Task Force and ASDSO. Those include additional funding, staffing, and legislative changes that provide regulators with better resources to hold dam owners accountable for safe maintenance practices and upkeep.
To report dam safety emergencies, call 800-292-4706.
Photo captions: EGLE Director Liesl Clark joins Gov. Whitmer at clean-up event in Sanford; DNR Director Eichinger picks up debris at Sanford clean-up event.