Michigan EGLE sends to governor initial status report on failed dams

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has submitted to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer its status report summarizing the department’s actions during and after the failures of the Edenville and Sanford dams in May and outlining the status of reviews of the state’s dam safety operations.

The Preliminary Report on the Edenville Dam Failure, Response Efforts, and Program Reviews is the first in a series of reports EGLE will receive from an independent forensic investigation team, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO), and the newly formed Michigan Dam Safety Task Force with programmatic, safety and procedural recommendations related to dams in Michigan and EGLE’s role in regulating more than 1,050 structures.

“EGLE staff have been on the ground since Day One of this tragedy and we will continue to do all that we can to help the residents of mid-Michigan and the communities in which they live, work and play,” said EGLE Director Liesl Clark. “We will continue to support, in an open and transparent way, the search for answers as to how these dam failures happened and why. We will also thoroughly review any recommendations and findings in future reports with an eye toward improving our department programs and overall dam safety in Michigan.”

The Edenville Dam status report details how EGLE has responded since the dams failed, causing a 500-year flood in Midland and Gladwin counties that displaced more than 11,000 people, impacted about 2,500 structures and caused an estimated $250 million in damages. EGLE staff continue to work with local, state and federal agencies and others to perform additional assessments of public safety, transportation and natural resources damages and to assist in recovery efforts.

Among EGLE’s actions on its own or in conjunction with stakeholders:

Agreed to a plan to modify and partially breach the spillway on the Tobacco River side of the remaining portion of Edenville Dam to restore flow to the downstream river reach, alleviate strain on the collapsed M-30 bridges, minimize upstream impacts and address dam safety concerns. The work plan is expected to be completed this year.

Approved members of the Independent Forensic Investigation team and will fulfill all information requests from investigators. A report is due within the next 12 to 18 months.

Collaborated with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to deploy teams on and along the area’s river and lake bottomlands to assess the extent of environmental resource damages to support recovery efforts and enforcement actions.

Enlisted ASDSO’s Peer Review Committee to perform a thorough evaluation of Michigan’s Dam Safety Program, looking at the mission and goals of the program, budget and staffing levels, organizational structure, and strength of laws and procedures. A final report is expected this month.

Begun the process of hiring a third dam safety engineer in EGLE’s Dam Safety Program.

Created a Michigan Dam Safety Task Force of key dam safety stakeholders from the public, private, academic, tribal and environmental sectors to improve dam safety in Michigan. A final report is anticipated in early 2021.

Working with the Michigan State Police’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division, DNR, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and Department of Transportation (DOT) to remove debris to help return the impacted area to pre-disaster conditions as much as possible.

Collaborated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on financial assistance and National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) community assistance and provided information about increased cost of compliance (ICC) coverage, substantial damage, floodplain requirements for rebuilding, repair of structures and state floodplain permit requirements.

Evaluated the potential new release of hazardous wastes and contaminants from the Dow Chemical site in Midland and the effects of the 2020 flood on the Tittabawassee River, Saginaw River and Bay Superfund Site with the United States Environmental Protection Agency and others.

Providing post-flood recovery assistance to reopen damaged roads, including joint field inspections and recommendations regarding replacement structure sizing and geometry to minimize environmental resource impacts and improve resiliency for future flood events.

Developed and regularly updating an Edenville Dam failure webpage, which includes an interactive map of all state-regulated dams in Michigan and other resources.

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