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Review concludes Michigan’s Dam Safety Unit is understaffed, constrained by time and budget

Dam failures caused devastation in Michigan

Frustrated Michigan officials issue emergency order to Edenville Dam owners ignoring deadlines
Frustrated Michigan officials issue emergency order to Edenville Dam owners ignoring deadlines

LANSING, Mich. – The Association of State Dam Safety Officials' (ASDSO) review of Michigan’s Dam Safety Unit was presented at a meeting of the Michigan Dam Safety Task Force.

READ: Michigan department publishes dam failure report

It concluded that Michigan’s program is understaffed and constrained by limited time, resources and budget. Officials said Michigan’s investments in dam safety have been lacking for decades, which increases the risk to public safety and the environment.

The Task Force will analyze the report as part of its review. It will also help state regulators and lawmakers prioritize recommendations to determine which are most necessary.

“The ASDSO report acknowledges the decades of underinvestment in infrastructure in Michigan, which includes many dams that, if they failed, would put downstream residents' lives in jeopardy,” EGLE Director Liesl Clark said. “We, along with the Task Force members, will take a close look at the many thoughtful recommendations in the report and welcome working collaboratively with the Legislature and other stakeholders to strengthen Michigan’s Dam Safety Program while also holding owners accountable for safely operating their dams.”

READ: Frustrated Michigan officials issue emergency order to Edenville Dam owners ignoring deadlines

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the review and a forensic investigation of the failure of the Edenville and Sanford dams in mid-Michigan after days of heavy rain. The flooding displaced nearly 11,000 people and damaged roughly 2,500 structures.

READ: Midland County residents sue state of Michigan over Edenville Dam failure

The peer review team said that the program should have 11 staff, including three senior dam safety engineers and three junior safety engineers to oversee approximately 1,060 state-regulated dams.

Currently, Michigan’s program has two dam safety engineers and one supervisor with a third dam safety engineer to be hired soon. In the Fiscal Year 2021 there is funding for hiring two more dam safety engineers.

The team recommended adding into statute a requirement that owners of aging high hazard dams perform periodic detailed evaluations of their facilities.

The Peer Review Team also called for a collaborative effort between EGLE, ASDSO and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to simplify the transfer of key information when the state takes over regulation of a former hydroelectric dam.

The report suggested Michigan offer a revolving loan program to provide grants and low interest loans to public owners of high hazard dams that need rehabilitation.

“National experience has demonstrated that a state organized and funded program for grants and low interest loans is critical to achieving real progress in rehabilitating publicly owned dams,” the report said.

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