Edenville Dam inspector: ‘People want to point fingers,’ but I did my best

Luke Trumble, one of two state dam inspectors who, along with a supervisor, was responsible for ensuring the safety of more than 1,000 state-regulated dams, has been thrust into the public spotlight following the May 19 Edenville Dam failure in mid-Michigan.(Bridge photo by Kelly House)

After a decade as one of two state inspectors responsible for ensuring the safety of Michigan’s 1,059 state-regulated dams, Luke Trumble is finally about to get a new colleague.

All it took was a catastrophic dam failure and $200 million in damages to begin rebuilding a regulatory program that state officials and outside experts have repeatedly warned does not have enough staff or funding to keep Michigan’s dams safe.

“It’s a big step in the right direction,” Trumble said. “When you only have two staff, you’re limited in how much you can do, so increasing the workforce by 50 percent will help.”

On Thursday, officials in the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy announced plans to hire a third inspector as part of its response to the May 19 Edenville Dam failure that damaged more than 2,500 buildings in Gladwin, Midland and Saginaw counties,

The agency has also tapped outside experts and announced a new task force to suggest other changes to Michigan’s dam safety regime. Legislative inquiries and class-action lawsuits, meanwhile, have questioned why federal and state regulators knew the dam was faulty for years but failed to take action.

Trumble and the state inherited oversight in September 2018, when federal regulators revoked the permit of the dam’s owner, Boyce Hydro LLC, to generate power. He and another colleague authored a cursory inspection of the dam that deemed it in “fair condition.”

But Michigan has flood-control standards that are half as strong as federal ones for high-hazard dams like Edenville, and state officials were awaiting a report on the 96-year-old dam’s ability to meet that lower standard when it failed amid heavy rains. In the meantime, they were working with a local task force that planned to buy the dams and repair them—a path Trumble said he thought would yield results faster than pressuring Boyce to make needed fixes.

Luke Trumble discusses the condition of one of two dams at Stony Creek Metropark in Shelby Township in northern Macomb County. He told Mike Henkel, chief of engineering services for Huron-Clinton Metroparks, the dams are in good condition but need mowing along their embankments. (Bridge photo by Kelly House)

“People want to point fingers and that’s part of the job and I understand that,” Trumble said, adding the dam’s safety issues were “not something you can just walk out there with a shovel and excavator and fix.”

A Beaverton native, Trumble grew up just miles from the dam and its impoundment, Wixom Lake. For 10 years, he’s worked in relative obscurity, his days filled with paperwork, field inspections, phone calls and meetings.

But in the two months since the failure of the Edenville and nearby Sanford dams, he has been consumed with media requests and legislative inquiries.  He defended the state’s response, acknowledging inspectors worried the dam would fail in a massive flood but noting those are exceedingly rare. State officials have called the Edenville flood a 500-year event.

“That dam operated safely, more or less, for almost 100 years,” Trumble said. 

He said regulators were focused on facilitating a sale of the dam from Boyce Hydro LLC., which insisted for years it didn’t have money for repairs, to the Four Lakes Task Force, a group of lakeside property owners who planned to repair Boyce’s four mid-Michigan dams.

“If the flood would have waited a couple years, the dam probably could have handled it,” Trumble said. 

For weeks after the failure, he worked 16-hour days, traveling from his home in Lansing to a Midland emergency operations center as the sun rose, then returning home to continue working late into the night.

The experience, Trumble said, has been stressful. In the days after the failure, with Midland still underwater, evacuees returning to find homes destroyed, and questions swirling about how the dam failed and who is to blame, Trumble recalled helping a stranded driver change a flat tire.

It felt like a blessing, he told Bridge. 

“Something controllable,” he said, amid a disaster that had plunged his world into chaos.

Years of low funding

The plan to add an inspector to the small state dam safety unit is likely the first of many proposed changes designed to bolster Michigan’s dam safety in response to Edenville.

While an independent investigation team works to determine what caused Edenville’s failure and who is responsible — a process that could take 18 months — the Association of State Dam Safety Officials will conduct an independent review of the dam safety program. 

A state release Thursday said the review will “recommend ways to improve the performance and management of the program and evaluate its mission, objectives, and policies and procedures.”

A task force of state and federal officials, local governments and others will build upon that report to recommend their own fixes.

Funding and staffing in Trumble’s unit, which is far lower per-dam than the national average, is likely to be a part of the discussion. 

The May 19 failure of the Edenville Dam and nearby Sanford Dam prompted the evacuation of 10,000 mid-Michigan residents, including downtown Midland, and caused some $200 million in damages. (Bridge photo by Dale Young)

Michigan’s dam safety unit budget in 2018 was just under $400,000. That works out to about $374 on regulation per dam. The average state spends $695 per dam in safety regulation, said Jacob Rushlow, Michigan section president for the American Society of Civil Engineers. 

Trumble said he welcomes suggestions for how the unit can improve. But, he added, “for only two inspectors, we do a pretty good job.”

Every one of Michigan’s state-managed dams must be inspected every three to five years. It would be difficult for the state’s two inspectors to keep up with the workload. 

So the state requires the owners of Michigan’s 803 state-regulated private dams to hire their own consultants to inspect the structures. Trumble and Dan DeVaun, his colleague in northern Michigan, are available to inspect any of the 350 publicly-owned dams under their jurisdiction at the owner’s request. Trumble estimated about half of them take the state up on the offer. Another 1,370 smaller dams are not regulated at all, and 92 fall under federal oversight.

On a recent round of inspections this month at four smaller dams in southeast Michigan, Trumble paced the grassy embankments, looking for irregularities in their slope, as well as damp spots or wetland plants that could indicate the dam is leaking. He documented his findings in photographs, which he’ll compile along with a written report, sending it all to the dam owner with a list of recommended actions. 

This time, Trumble’s recommendations were minimal: Keep vegetation mowed on the embankment. Monitor some minor erosion in an area where anglers have cut a boot path down to the reservoir. Keep an eye on some minor blemishes in the dam’s concrete.

When state inspectors identify a problem, they alert the owner and direct them to make repairs. But because many dam owners lack money for repairs and maintenance, Trumble sometimes finds himself flagging the same problem repeatedly over multiple inspections. 

“The typical dam owner wants to do the right thing,” Trumble said. “Fining is sometimes counter-productive because it takes money away from the repairs.”

‘There’s no ‘Easy’ button’

The state’s decision-making process at Edenville underscores a fundamental obstacle to quickly addressing dam safety problems: Inspectors can cite dam owners who refuse to comply, but can only step in and order repairs unilaterally if a dam’s deficiencies pose an imminent danger. 

Trumble said the problem must be so dire that the dam could fail at any moment. He has taken unilateral action a handful of times, on small dams where the fix cost a few thousand dollars or less. In some cases, it required no money at all — just staff time to remove the stop logs holding back small small reservoirs.

The problems at Edenville, he said, weren’t dire enough to warrant emergency action. And even if they had been, the state has no money for such repairs. 

“There’s no ‘Easy’ button, or we would have pushed it,” Trumble said. 

 Luke Trumble, one of Michigan’s two state dam inspectors, is about to get a new colleague after the Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy announced plans to staff up following the Edenville Dam failure. EGLE officials said their response to the disaster will also include a review of the dam safety program intended to prevent future failures. (Bridge photo by Kelly House)

Legislators have historically been reluctant to dedicate more funding to dam safety, despite repeated warnings that without it, failures will become increasingly common.

A 2004 policy document from the Department of Environmental Quality (which has since been renamed to EGLE), warned that lack of funding for repair was causing dams to become “seriously degraded.”

Instead of boosting funding, lawmakers acting on a budget proposal from then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm eliminated what was then a three-inspector dam safety unit amid budget cuts in 2005. They restored the unit seven months later with two inspectors. 

In 2007, the Michigan River Partnership, a coalition of government and nonprofit groups, concluded that Michigan needs a dedicated state fund for dam rehabilitation and removal. Nothing came of it, said Mark Coscarelli, a senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants who led the effort. 

“It gets back to the old thing of, what are our priorities in the public policy arena?” Coscarelli said. “It’s health care, it’s criminal justice, and then you’ve got some boring old dams.”

State leaders received a similar message in 2016 from then-Gov. Rick Snyder’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission, which estimated Michigan needed $227 million over 20 years to achieve dam safety goals. 

Two years later, the American Society of Civil Engineers again recommended more state funding and additional staff, warning that “deficiencies identified during dam inspections often remain uncorrected, sometimes for decades, because their owners do not have the money to repair or remove them.”

Rushlow, of the society’s Michigan section, said report authors took their suggestions to the Capitol, pushing “as hard as we could to get the information out there.” They sought meetings with legislators and dropped pamphlets in their mailboxes. 

“It's going to cost less now to invest to make those needed repairs, than it’s going to cost to replace or rebuild something that drastically fails,” Rushlow said.

‘The system failed’

The Midland dams saga may prove that point: Before the Edenville and Sanford dams failed, the Four Lakes Task Force planned to spend up to $35 million to buy and repair Boyce’s four mid-Michigan dams. 

The failure has ballooned repair costs to $340 million, plus another $20 million to deal with erosion and other immediate issues caused by the failure, said task force Chairman David Kepler.

Aside from Boyce and its owner, Lee Mueller, Kepler said he doesn’t blame any one person or agency for the disaster.

“The system failed,” Kepler told legislators during an appearance Tuesday before a joint senate committee. “These dams should have survived these storms.”

The state, he said, needs to do more to make sure dam owners are financially capable of maintaining their dams. And it should examine the “handoff protocol” between federal and state regulators when a dam loses its federal license and becomes state-regulated. 

Rep. Sue Allor, R-Wolverine, chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Environmental Quality whose members questioned Trumble and other EGLE officials last month about the dam safety program’s policies and staffing.

In light of the disaster, Allor said, she wanted to know “exactly what they do, and funding that might be needed.”

Allor said she was pleased to hear the state is hiring a new inspector, but she conceded that any effort to bolster dam safety funding could prove difficult as the state braces for a $3 billion budget gap for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

“We’re going to have to get very creative in looking at the budgets,” Allor said. 

Mark Ogden, a technical specialist with the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, said Pennsylvania’s system could provide a model. There, state law requires dam owners to prove they can cover costs of needed dam repair, maintenance, or removal. A law passed in 2018 established a state fund, backed by fees from private dam owners, to help cover such costs. Dam owners must comply with state safety regulations and current on inspections to participate in the fund.

Some landowners surrounding the lakes—which are now rivers surrounded by debris fields after regulators ordered them drained for safety following the floods—say policy fixes may be needed too.   

Mark Mudge, a task force member and Smallwood Lake homeowner, said he ultimately blames Boyce for the failure. 

But “I don’t think the state is blameless,” he said. They could have pressured the company to repair Edenville, rather than counting on new owners to make repairs in the future, Mudge said. 

“They knew there were problems, and I don’t know why they didn’t act faster.”

Trumble said he welcomes suggestions for reforms. He, too, has been thinking hard about how the state could better prevent future disasters like the one at Edenville, he said.

“If I need to take some criticism, I’m prepared to do that,” he said. But funding, staffing and changes to the laws that set Michigan’s dam safety standards “can’t come from me.”

“We need to work with the Legislature to help them understand where we need help, where they can help, and what’s appropriate for the level of safety that we’re trying to achieve.”

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Comments

Vote out ALL GOP!
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 8:15am

"The state, he said, needs to do more to make sure dam owners are financially capable of maintaining their dams."

YES, GOP secret revealed! In Republican world, we privatize corporate profits and socialize costs, damages. Seriously people, wake up!

JAK
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 12:46pm

Okay then...step forward with the funds to buy all the damns and then provide the funds to maintain them! Reaching for your wallet yet? Talk is so cheap.

Down with the Dems! One and Done! Don't allow the Whitmer administration to wreck our future!

middle of the mit
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 12:49pm

Why should the State have to pay someone for a dam that the owner is willing to allow to partially drain because the dam is unsafe and the owner is unwilling to fix even when having permits pulled from them? That is all but abandoning the dam and putting people and precious property at risk?

If this owner isn't responsible for owning a bad dam, What would happen to your house if you owned a crappy house that was an eyesore?

And how is the State supposed to afford this with the budget the GOP allows AFTER their special interest tax breaks?

You want one and done for Governor Gretchen but forget that she took over for a two term GOP Gov that NEVER acknowledged the dams in the first place and when he did, his dam inspector gave a 3 paragraph A-OK on it.

If that is more of what you are looking for.........................DRAIN THE LAKES!

Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 9:38pm

Why should the state pay for a dam when the owners file bankruptcy after their negligence? Time to get serious about nationalizing, maintaining, or removing unsafe dams across the state.

Whitmer is only...
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 9:36pm

JAK,

Obviously you don't know jack. It's true Republican world, we privatize corporate profits and socialize costs, damages. Now these people who were CRIMINALLY negligent in maintaining their damn dams are filing bankruptcy so WE THE PEOPLE, the TAXPAYERS, are stuck paying for the damages. So hell no to "buy" the dams. We nationalize them and either maintain them ourselves or dismantle them. Why should the owners be allowed to make a profit selling us electricity without maintaining them??????? The owners should be prosecuted and jailed. Oh and their vote should be taken away until they pay back the taxpayers for the damages, like they to excons in Florida.

Your post is completely NUTS.

middle of the mit
Wed, 08/05/2020 - 8:41pm

Booooooo Yaaaaaaaaaa!!!

Unless you can afford the fixes, as a community or a lake front ownership, The State can NOT afford your negligence ANYMORE!

Take it up with the people who lowered your income and business taxes!

It's time! The rooster has come home to roost! He is wondering what happened to his home?????

Not that Hens are responsible............

But tax cutters are! And who did they cut taxes on? Those most able to pay them..........and then tossed off the tax cuts onto those who aren't making enough to pay taxes? YEP!

That is your tax base now.

Welcome to Michissippi!

Arjay
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 3:23pm

I believe the story said Granholm initially defunded the inspector function. Last I heard, Granholm was a democrat.

middle of the mit
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 6:47pm

This is what he article says.

Instead of boosting funding, lawmakers acting on a budget proposal from then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm eliminated what was then a three-inspector dam safety unit amid budget cuts in 2005. They restored the unit seven months later with two inspectors.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

But you act as though Gov Whitmer immediately replaced Gov Granholm (If only) while omitting 8 years of this guy.

State leaders received a similar message in 2016 from then-Gov. Rick Snyder’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission, which estimated Michigan needed $227 million over 20 years to achieve dam safety goals.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

But we were too busy giving out tax cuts, tax breaks and tax deferrals to even think about investing in the State or it's dams, weren't we?

If I was you, I would just give up. Cause all you have is hot air.

Concerned
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 8:19am

This article underscores our infrastructure problems and begs the question, do we shut down all the other unsafe dams in the state? Companies like their profits, customers like their low energy rates. Where is the financial or "free market" incentive to regulate, maintain, and repair these tremendously dangerous structures?

LH
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 2:48pm

Let's add that property owners like their waterfront property and access to water-based recreational opportunities. Yet other than the property taxes that they paid based on their higher -value waterfront property, those owners contributed nothing to maintain the infrastructure that provided them with these amenities. Draining these lakes, as someone suggested elsewhere, would have caused a huge outcry among property owners, and could have been considered a regulatory "taking" of property value. Well, that property value has been taken now, not only for the property owners along what is now a mudflat, but for a huge number of downstream residents. I believe dam owners should bear the lion's share of the cost of maintaining dams, especially when there is profit resulting from power generation, but having waterfront property owners chip in, through a lake association or similar mechanism, would also be appropriate in my opinion.

Carl Garbacik
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 6:03pm

Yes, we were ready to buy the dams from the trust, but it was too late.

Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 9:40pm

Yes, too little too late.

Time for Action Now
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 8:23am

"But Michigan has flood-control standards that are half as strong as federal ones for high-hazard dams like Edenville, and state officials were awaiting a report on the 96-year-old dam’s ability to meet that lower standard when it failed amid heavy rains."

Why is that? Which elected officials thought the lower standards were acceptable? We have so many places in Michigan where the same disaster can occur, a disaster that is man-made.

Not enough
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 8:33am

"After a decade as one of two state inspectors responsible for ensuring the safety of Michigan’s 1,059 state-regulated dams, Luke Trumble is finally about to get a new colleague.

All it took was a catastrophic dam failure and $200 million in damages to begin rebuilding a regulatory program that state officials and outside experts have repeatedly warned does not have enough staff or funding to keep Michigan’s dams safe."

We are paying trillions of dollars for people to do NOTHING, yet we have no money to PAY people to conduct inspections, repairs?????? Now is the time to fix the roads, bridges, install statewide broadband. Come on Michigan GOP-controlled legislature, stop giving away our money for nothing in return. Create jobs! Stop impeding the governor's efforts to protect our health and welfare. Where is the legislation and funding we need? Are you asking your buddy Trump for assistance when he says let the states file for bankruptcy, something the great negotiator snake-oil salesman knows so much about.

Anonymous
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 10:48am

Yes, why not train people to do this work that needs to be done? Why are we just paying unemployment for doing nothing? Most of these jobs are outdoors. Reports can be written at home.

Tired of Gridlock
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 9:44pm

Ask Shirkey and Chatfield. These could be great paying jobs that are really needed, along with fixing our bridges and roads. The whole summer was wasted. We have gridlock and the Republicans control BOTH chambers!!!!

Lives in ruins
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 8:46am

Dear Rep. Sue Allor, R, the people in Oscoda, Tawas, East Tawas, Harrisville, Greenbush, etc. are wondering how the dams on the Ausable River are holding up. It would be especially catastrophic if one of those 100 year old plus dams breaches along with the already flooded, highly saturated areas combined with historically high Great Lakes. We are talking Biblical disasters. It's not good for our residents, businesses or tourism. It's bad enough we have to deal with the pandemic. Do your job! Protect the environment we cherish so dearly. Sen Jim Stamas, R, you too need to change your focus, whatever that focus seems to be! Are you hoping a flood clears out the residential properties to make it easier to sell your launch pad industry? After all the command center can be located anywhere, right, like Midland or Sterling Heights? Who cares about the locals who elect you again and again?

Arjay
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 8:52am

Why no mention of the role AG Nessel may had in causing the flood? It was previously reported that the water behind the dam was at a lower level. The AG ordered the owner to let the level rise to protect some insect. When the water level behind the dam is low, there is less pressure on the dam. When that level rises, there is more pressure on the same dam, and thus more likely the dam will fail.

Anonymous
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 10:49am

Is that a solution or a bandaid?

middle of the mit
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 12:58pm

I am still waiting to find out how this lake got on her radar. Mussles aren't insects by the way.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mussel

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insect

I wonder if it was saving the mussels, or when the lakefront homeowners petitioned to have the lake brought up another 3 feet to legal summer level.

My bet? The lakefront property owners put this ALL on her radar. It would be nice if we knew someone that could look into this, wouldn't it be?

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2020/07/05/michiga...

Just Do It!

Why? Because if you have a dam that can't keep the lake dammed, it's not really much of a dam is it? Blame the owner of said dam or DRAIN IT!

Hmmmm
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 8:55am

"Michigan’s dam safety unit budget in 2018 was just under $400,000. That works out to about $374 on regulation per dam. The average state spends $695 per dam in safety regulation, said Jacob Rushlow, Michigan section president for the American Society of Civil Engineers."

So we have standards in Michigan that are about 50% lower than federal standards and we spend about 50% less on average than other state to regulate them. Sounds like the total excitement of a Republican wet dream about reducing government regulations. We're told to live on thoughts and prayers that the flood waters could have just come a few years later with less consequences. "Don't be pessimistic."

MAGA
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 9:00am

"Every one of Michigan’s state-managed dams must be inspected every three to five years. It would be difficult for the state’s two inspectors to keep up with the workload."

Yeah, that gets even more difficult when you have to answer to the government and the media. How are these people supposed to do their jobs???? There should be a minimum of 20 inspectors, at least ten times the current number. Imagine the COST of NOT having enough inspectors. The inspectors need to fine, shutdown, imprison owners of dams that are not in compliance. Yes, unfortunately we need to expect and plan for 500+ year floods as routine now.

Dan Moerman
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 9:01am

And recall that the state has some 2500 dams, 1,061 presumably regulated by the state, by two guys, now three. So we are now at 353 dams per inspector. One a day, and 12 days to write the reports.

Anonymous
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 10:45am

I wonder what Arjay thinks about that.

EB
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 9:02am

With no funds to fix the problem, the state would have had only one other option: drain the lakes prior to the lakes draining themselves. Think of the howl that would have caused.

Global Warming causes recorded extremes: record high Great Lakes levels, record high ground water levels, record high temperatures, record wind velocities and counter intuitively, record drought and record low temperatures.

Global Warming was the trigger for the mid-Michigan inundation.

Can replacement dams be engineered to withstand what's coming when we don't know how extreme our future weather is going to be?

Recreating these lakes would have recreational value and improve lake shore property value, but at a huge cost to whomever pays for this and taxpayers who end up paying for much of the damage caused by engineering and future maintenance failures.

Parks have recreational value. Golf courses have recreational value. The former Wixom and Sanford Lake beds would be great use for both.

Smart Start
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 10:56am

So true, lots of howling, but electricity will cost more without dams. Perhaps we need newer more efficient smaller dams, more wind and wave energy added to the mix. However draining the failing dams is a GREAT first start.

middle of the mit
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 1:05pm

With no funds to fix the problem, the state would have had only one other option: drain the lakes prior to the lakes draining themselves. Think of the howl that would have caused.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Unfortunately, other than jail time for the owner, that is the only way for most Americans to take something seriously. It has to directly affect and effect them.

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2020/07/05/michiga...

I don't think you could use the lake bottoms for parks or especially golf courses. Those are usually flat areas with places to run and play. These would mostly be river valleys once the lake is drained. Not ideal for either a park or a golf course. Just beautiful scenery once the ground cover starts growing.

Naw
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 9:50pm

They could be beautiful floodplain parks with scenic drives like Hines Drive in metro Detroit. There could still be beautiful houses overlooking the parks.

middle of the mit
Wed, 08/05/2020 - 9:28pm

While I don't know what Hines Drive in Metro Detroit looks like, I do somewhat know how things in Northern and Central MI are. Not to be mean at all. but we do call you flatlanders for a reason. There are more valleys and hills up here. And most of the Tittawabassee would be river valleys. I checked. Most of those lakes were are fairly deep. And given that the river, depending on how wide it is in those areas is at an uneducated guess around 5 feet deep. (+ 3 feet -1 foot) Even given a gradual slope, and most of them don't have that, they are river valleys. I have lived and grown up and fished and hiked along most of them.

Let's find out!

How many people think your drained lakes could be parks or golf courses?

This is Sanford lake. See how thin the lake is?

https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Ftse1.mm.bing...

See what the depth is?

https://www.fishidy.com/map/us/michigan/sanford-lake

Maximum 20 feet deep

Maybe Wixom lake could be according to these photos.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/wixom-lake-turns-into-a-giant-beach-af...

But will the property owners want people poking holes in their windows with golf balls when they weren't willing to suffer to prevent that from happening?

These people are entitled and they love it, until they have pay for their entitlement.

This IS Americas problem.

So you of wealth..............you need to figure out what you want. The rest of us are flailing in the winds of the direction you take the State and Country. And NO! The poor don't have any money to help you.

YOU are the leaders! GET out from behind your laptops and LEAD!

Common sense
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 9:04am

“The typical dam owner wants to do the right thing,” Trumble said. “Fining is sometimes counter-productive because it takes money away from the repairs.”

-- Then just remove the dam. It's that easy.

Anonymous
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 9:06am

"The problems at Edenville, he said, weren’t dire enough to warrant emergency action. And even if they had been, the state has no money for such repairs."

REALLY??????

Red
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 9:08am

Michigan's deteriorating infrastructure continues to crumble due to chronic underfunding. We continue to run the risk of disaster and loss of life. Miraculously we dodged a bullet this time without injuries or deaths, but we are unlikely to get so lucky again.
If the legislature continues to act like it did with proposed road funding increases, we are doomed to repeat our failures.
Nobody wants higher taxes, but they do want services.
You get what you pay for.

MAGA
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 11:14am

Yep, remember these promises and priorities:

Trump campaign unveils plan to spend $1 trillion on roads, bridges, and other infrastructure with no tax hikes
https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-campaign-1-trillion-infrastructure...

Donald Trump's Mexico wall: Who is going to pay for it?
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-37243269

Mexico, right?

Appeals court: Trump wrongly diverted $2.5 billion in military construction funds for border wall
https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2020/06/26/appeals-cour...

Trump lied, again and again and again. This time around, despite all his failures and unkept promises, Trump wants us to vote for him again so he can deregulate MORE and undermine our environmental, health, and safety laws, promising to save the suburbs from Blacks, like we care or actually worry about THAT. He's even bad as a snakeoil salesman. He's just a clown, only dangerous.

BINGO!
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 9:09am

This reminds me of when Obama left Trump a manual on how to prepare for a pandemic like coronavirus. Republicans just have different priorities, like selfishly lining their pockets with our tax dollars. When they are in charge, they always do either nothing or too little too late:

A 2004 policy document from the Department of Environmental Quality (which has since been renamed to EGLE), warned that lack of funding for repair was causing dams to become “seriously degraded.”

Instead of boosting funding, lawmakers acting on a budget proposal from then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm eliminated what was then a three-inspector dam safety unit amid budget cuts in 2005. They restored the unit seven months later with two inspectors.

middle of the mit
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 6:38pm

Yep. Check. But the article states she did this because of budget cuts. Who controls spending? The legislature?

Now who was in control of that in 2004-05?

https://ballotpedia.org/Party_control_of_Michigan_state_government

According to that website, Republicans were. And what was she dealing with? Exactly what Republicans do when they get control of Government.

SHRINKING IT'S SIZE!

It's what I like to call, Grovers drown the Gub in a tub club.

When will you all accept that you are dues paying members?

Perhaps....
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 9:15am

Mark Mudge, a task force member and Smallwood Lake homeowner, said he ultimately blames Boyce for the failure.

But “I don’t think the state is blameless,” he said. They could have pressured the company to repair Edenville, rather than counting on new owners to make repairs in the future, Mudge said.

“They knew there were problems, and I don’t know why they didn’t act faster.”

Old billionaire Matty Moroun took appropriate action after just one night in jail. Perhaps that should be the model for holding dam owners accountable.

Bob Potocki
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 9:17am

Regulators and engineers are in denial. Public Safety demands that they know the threats posed by poorly managed dams like Edenville. A government employee without legal standing cannot regulate a private dam and insure public safety. Sure, dams only collapse occasionally. But a system that puts private interests before public safety is flawed from the start. It cannot work.
Please check Woodland Lake Dam #606 in Livingston, Brighton Township. They literally authorized the building of a mansion on a dam. By a convicted ponzi scheme operator. And the DNR was front and center. Lakefront property on a dam??? Check the regulation. Privilege bought and paid for. Where are the regulators and their mission to protect public safety?

GOP Dam Failure
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 9:21am

“We need to work with the Legislature to help them understand where we need help, where they can help, and what’s appropriate for the level of safety that we’re trying to achieve.”

Perhaps given the catastrophe happened in very "conservative" Republican districts might bode well for productive legislative priorities and funding, but it's doubtful. They tend to like these disasters because, as the article says, it's cheaper to build new than to maintain the old. So expect more dam failure! (Pun intended.) Hope no one gets hurt and insurance premiums stay nice and low. Ha Ha loaded sarcasm.

Paul Jordan
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 10:06am

This is yet another of the result of decades of Republican legislatures in Michigan working to hollow out state government. Time after time, when there has also been a Republican governor they have exploited every opportunity to squeeze state budgets and then lowered income taxes. Laws protecting the public are so popular that Republican-controlled governments don't dare try to repeal them, but if they starve state and local governments' budgets there aren't enough state employees to enforce even the most popular laws.
Remember this when you vote on November 3.

Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 9:56pm

And then there is the ad nauseum mantra "deregulate", like the private sector has some incentive to protect us. Greedy jerks!

Karl
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 10:45am

It seems the state currently doesn't have the proper laws in place to enforce repairs onto private owners. The IRS has the ability to garnish wages and bank accounts for back taxes. Why not create a similar scenario for private owners? Or make them post a bond for the entire replacement cost when they buy in. Then allow the state access to that bond money to do repairs required by inspections. Give the owner one warning to take care of the issues themselves, then use the bond money. If it happens a second time, take the property and sell to someone else. Charge the new owner the same bond. After a few repetitions of this process, we'd have quite a pile of money. It worked for the Auto Insurance catastrophic fund.

lostinacointoss
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 3:03pm

This is a good idea, Karl. If you do a little more research on this story you'll find out that actually the purchase of all 4 dams occurred when they were under Federal regulation (FERC). It wasn't until 2018 that Edenville dam ONLY was turned over to State regulation because the Feds revoked the power-generating license for that dam from Boyce Hydro. Once that happens, by law, dam oversight is turned from Fed to State regulation.

All that to say the problem started 15 years ago when Feds were the regulating body for the dams, not the state. FERC didn't look into Boyce Hydro's finances to see if they could afford the repairs and extra spillway needed in case of an extreme rain event. FERC is saying the reason for that is because the dams were purchased out of foreclosure, and in the case of foreclosure FERC doesn't *have* to look into the buyers' finances to see if they can afford to maintain dams, even though they admit they probably *should.* Such a crock.

Anyway, the reform your speaking of needs to happen at all levels: State and Federal. Any private entity that wishes to purchase a dam, moving forward, not only needs to prove that they have the financing in place to maintain the dam, but also to repair and/or build anything that needs fixing by "xxx day/year." And then any dam that is currently under private ownership that needs repair should be given a time period to make repairs, or those dams will be condemned and seized under eminent domain (purchased by state/local government for the greater good of the public). It seems like the most common sense thing in the world, but it's simply not in place today. We've learned our lesson the hard way. Now, reform, reform, reform.

Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 10:00pm

Karl, yes, make the owners contribute to a superfund.

Jake K
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 12:42pm

Forget about suggesting that Democratic administrations including the current one have had plenty of time to address issues such as these., i.e., Nessel is certainly knee-deep in this quagmire. The GOP haters will always look past themselves to place the blame elsewhere, while the Dem haters will do the same.

middle of the mit
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 12:39pm

Ahh yes! The blame the dems game, but forget that the GOP had an entire 8 years of total control of the State and it's running and what did they do?

Give business a GReat BIG TaX break and pushed the costs onto to teachers, retirees and the citizens by raising FEES for everything under the sun. But did they address this at all?

Nope!

Blame the dems for the dams! And the roads and everything else we don't want to raise taxes to pay for!

Your State is only as good as the taxes that you are willing to pay. Welcome to Michissippi!

Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 10:18pm

Oh, so by that thinking, you blame Trump for covid failures, been in office two more years than Whitmer, Obama gave him the book on how to handle the situation and Trump still failed. Instead Trump put Whitmer in charge. At least he understood that she would be a great leader where he himself failed.

lostinacointoss
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 1:23pm

Lots of partisan political mud-slinging in the comments, disappointing, when these locals need help - not vitriol.

But they'll get it done on their own. One positive thing that has come from all of this - speaking first hand as someone affected by the dam failures - is that people in the Sanford area have come together from all walks of life to help rebuild and restore. Want a pun? They're taking the "high ground," doing all they can, neighbor helping neighbor, to help those who have lost so much in this tragedy. They'll get it done with or without people who all they they're interested in is using this tragedy as a pawn in their game of political finger pointing. Acting like little kids in a sandbox.

I call BS
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 10:21pm

I call BS this notion of government based on charity. Everyone has their hands out begging for money.

Alex Sagady
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 8:26pm

As near as I can tell this is the first article by a Michigan journalist to
interview Dam Inspector Luke Tremble of MDEGLE Water Division.

The only disappointment in this otherwise excellent article is the
failure of the writer to ask Mr. Tremble an important and key question --
was he consulted or was his advice sought before MDEGLE Director Liesl
Clark sought the involvement of Attorney General Dana Nessel in maintaining
State of Michigan litigation seeking to maintain Wixom Lake at a high lake level?

That is certainly a key question that needs to be addressed given the pressure of
the State of Michigan and area riparian owners to keep Wixom Lake levels high.

Such high lake levels combined with the loss of discharge capability through the
Edenville Dam's hydroelectric generating station are certainly going to be key
issues in the failure of this earthen dam.

middle of the mit
Wed, 08/05/2020 - 9:35am

What is a high lake level? The owner of the dam drained the lake 8 feet BELOW LEGAL SUMMER LEVELS. The order Nessel asked for raised it 5 feet to 3 feet BELOW LEGAL SUMMER LEVEL. The property owners then petitioned the courts to bring the level to THE LEGAL SUMMER LEVEL.

Why is the LEGAL SUMMER LEVEL too high? Unless you own a crappy dam, it is the level it is supposed to be at.

John S.
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 10:08pm

If state government won't provide enough funding for an effective dam inspection and safety program and owners can't or won't pay for repairs to the dams, the long term solution is a program to get rid of these dams. As is usually the case, the taxpayer will have to foot the bill, just as they have for many other environmental clean ups.

Chuck D
Fri, 08/07/2020 - 9:11am

This is obviously Trump's fault. And also everyone else at the GOP. Right, bridge? Right? Come on, just say it. I know you want to.

middle of the mit
Sat, 08/08/2020 - 8:34pm

Nobody is blaming the orange man.

WE are blaming the privatize everything because private individuals will treat you better and they will take care of their investment crowd!

Hi.

Anonymous
Sat, 08/22/2020 - 11:54am

It is a matter of public record that the Four Lakes Task Force, local business owners and lake front property owners put considerable pressure on Boyce Hydro to fill the lake in spring of 2019. Additionally, a circuit court judge, not the state, decided on the legal level of the lake. Where did the judge get his information that led to his lake level decision? Why didn't the property owners pitch in to make repairs to the dam the way owners along Sanford Lake did?