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Governor Whitmer orders investigation of dam failures

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has ordered a state investigation into why two privately owned dams failed last week in Midland County contributing to recordflooding.

After the Edenville and Sanford Dams failed, thousands were forced to evacuate and many towns along the Tittabawassee River sufferedextensive damage.

Whitmer says people in Midland County deserve answers.

“They deserve to know why these dams failed...why they’ve been uprooted,” Whitmer told reporters Wednesday during an inspection trip to Sanford, the small community was hardest hit by the flood.

But the agency Whitmer is directing to conduct the investigation has been named in a lawsuit tied to one of the dam failures.

State Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) says it’s important that the investigation is “full and transparent.”

“Any investigation must include whether state and federal regulators failed to intervene in a timely manner,” says Stamas. “Unfortunately, I found some state regulators were more concerned about potential harm to freshwater mussels than they were about needed repairs or safety precautions.”

For years, government regulators directed the dam operator to make improvements to the Edenville Dam designed to make it better able to handle severe weather events. The dam failed after days of heavy storms dumped more than eight inches of rain in the region.

The company that owns the dams, Boyce Hydro, has blamed state officials with forcing it to raise the level of Wixom Lake before heavy rains caused severe flooding last week.

Boyce Hydro is also named in several lawsuits tied to the flood.  

Whitmer insists the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy is best qualified to investigate the causes of the failures and make recommendations to improve dam safetyin Michigan.

An EGLE spokesman says the investigation will be “in-depth and broad.”

“The most important thing is to get it right and develop substantive recommendations in both the Midland flood probe and Gov. Whitmer’s request to review the safe operation and oversight of the 2,500-plus dams in the state,” says EGLE spokesman Nick Assendelft.

Assendelft says EGLE officials are still determining the best way to move forward with the investigation.  Once that’s determined, he says the agency will have a better idea of how long the investigation will take. 

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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.
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