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A court case is forcing a delay in restoration work at two mid-Michigan dams that failed in 2020

Steve Carmody
Michigan Public

Work to restore two mid-Michigan dams that catastrophically failed in 2020 is on hold.

In May, 2020, after days of heavy rain, the Edenville and Sanford dams failed, unleashing a torrent of water that flooded parts of Gladwin and Midland counties.

The flooding forced thousands to flee their homes and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.

Since then, work has been done to secure the dams, as well as two other dams further upstream. But neither Wixom or Sanford lakes have been refilled due to more extension restoration work needed to bring the century old dams into compliance.

And now, the work is on hold.

Property owners upset by a special assessment to pay for more than half the $399-million dam and lake restoration project have asked a circuit court judge to intervene. At a public hearing last month, the Midland and Gladwin county boards of commissioners approved an assessment plan to raise more than $200 million for the project.

The hundreds of property owners attended the meeting, and howled when the commissioners signed off on the plan.

Many said the assessment devalues their properties and will drain away their savings.

The property owners had the option to appeal the decision to a district court in Midland, which a group did last month.

David Kepler is the president of the Four Lakes Task Force, the organization charged with rebuilding the dams, restoring the lakes and maintaining the system into the future.

He said, without the assessment in place, the task force can not move forward with plans to issue bonds to pay for construction. Kepler hopes the delay will only be until September.

However, Kepler said the court case is forcing work restoring the dams to be suspended during what should be a productive summer construction season.

He added the effect will be to increase the time and money needed to complete the project.

“Three months can be critical here,” said Kepler.

Kepler says unless the court allows the assessment to go through, the dam restoration project will have to wait until a new source of more than $200 million is found.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.