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Lawmakers discussing how Michigan prioritizes dam funding

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

State senators are debating how much money needs to be spent on Michigan’s dams.

At a committee hearing on Tuesday, legislators heard how state regulators prioritize grant applications for repairing or removing aging dams.

State Senator Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) has concerns that the needs of aquatic life play too big a role in deciding which projects receive grants.

“I’m appalled at the fact that safety concerns have to go through fisheries and get vetted by biology, rather than by public safety interests,” says McBroom.

Since 2012, the Dam Management Grant funded 32 projects totaling $16.95 million. Of those projects, 21 projects totaling $13.42 million were dam removals, 10 projects totaling $1.88 million were dam repairs, and one $1.65 million project was a legislative appropriation for a fish passage barrier removal. 

The Aquatic Habitat Grant funded 43 projects since 2014. Of those projects, none were dam repairs, nine were dam removals, and 34 were other habitat improvements such as culvert removals or shoreline erosion projects.  

But State Senator Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo) suggests no progress will be made until the state starts spending millions more a year on dam safety.

“I mean we could complain about things all day unless this body is willing to put in four or five million dollars a year, we’re not going to get anywhere,” says Bumstead.

A special joint legislative committee has been examining Michigan’s dams since two privately owned dams failed last month. 

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.