LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan lawmakers on Wednesday proposed spending $500 million to repair aging dams a year after a hydroelectric dam failed to hold back floodwaters in the Midland area, causing more than $250 million in damage, draining lakes and forcing thousands of residents to evacuate their homes.
Pending legislation would create four new funds dedicated to dams. The money would help cover repairs related to the disaster, upgrade high-risk dams elsewhere, fund responses to future disasters and draw federal match funding to rehabilitate or remove dams.
Policy bills would add requirements for dam owners, including that they can financially handle potential problems and that they keep operation, monitoring and safety records. Higher-risk dams would be inspected more frequently than lower-risk structures.
“I get it – there’s been a lot of talk and too little action,” House Speaker Jason Wentworth, a Farwell Republican whose district is near the failed Edenville Dam, said in a statement. “With these bills, we are going to lock the state into a real plan big enough to actually fix the problem and fast enough to start delivering results in our most vulnerable areas before it’s too late.”
Legislators were still finalizing how to propose splitting the $500 million among the accounts.
In May 2020, the Edenville Dam failed during a steady rain, draining Wixom Lake and unleashing the Tittabawassee River, which then overwhelmed the Sanford Dam, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) north of Detroit.
Both Republicans and Democrats in the GOP-controlled Legislature will sponsor the measures.
“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,” said Sen. Jim Stamas, a Midland Republican, who said the measures will help prevent future disasters in other communities.
In March, the state said the major portion of emergency work to restore the Tobacco River was completed. And this week, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy said a reorganized dam safety unit will soon have the equivalent of five full-time staffers to oversee more than 1,000 state-regulated dams, double from when the two dams failed a year ago.
EGLE Director Liesl Clark said she looked forward to working with legislators to secure additional funding, staffing and legislative changes to help regulators better hold dam owners accountable for upkeep.
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Featured image: In this July 30, 2020, file photo, debris rests at the spillway of the Sanford Dam in downtown Sanford, Mich. (AP Photo/ Jeff McMillan File)