Mid-Michigan lawmakers urgently introduced a slate of bills to better fund and regulate Michigan’s aging dams. But more than two years after the Midland disaster, the reforms have yet to receive a hearing.
That’s what an independent panel found in its final report chronicling the physical and human causes of the May 2020 dam failures that flooded out mid-Michigan, forcing thousands to evacuate and leaving widespread damage.
An investigative report released Monday sheds light on the problems that left the dam vulnerable, from a failure to compact the soil during construction to missing drain tiles that the dam’s owner never addressed.
The fine may be purely symbolic, since Boyce Hydro has declared bankruptcy. But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chair called it “a clear message” to other dam owners that the agency is serious about dam safety.
Devastating Midland floods would have been worse were it not for the sponge-like properties of a newly-restored wetland along the Shiawassee River. As climate change brings more intense rainstorms to Michigan, the incident is an example of how wetlands could help mitigate flood threats.
In a report detailing 86 recommendations designed to improve dam safety in Michigan, members of a state task force focused on changes to state law and policy, along with funding fixes to prevent future dam failures like the Edenville break in May.
Facing a host of lawsuits, companies that operated the dams that failed during historic flooding seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, using the filing to list a litany of grievances against federal regulators and neighbors.
Michigan is adding a third dam inspector as part of reforms following the failure of the Edenville Dam that caused $200 million in damages. One inspector who oversaw the dam defends the state’s actions, saying “There’s no ‘Easy’ button, or we would have pushed it.”
In a claim filed this week, a Sanford couple whose home was destroyed in the floodwater argues federal regulators never should have granted Boyce Hydro a license to generate power at the Edenville Dam.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission members are hauled before a Senate panel to answer why it took so long to act against a dam with decades of safety issues. Levying fines would have been like “getting blood from a turnip,” one regulator says.
Federal regulators tell Congress it never performed a check on Boyce Hydro’s finances before it bought a dam in need of repairs. They blame a loophole that says such checks aren’t necessary for dams bought out of foreclosure. The dam failed in May.
After criticism from experts and others who argued the state should not lead an investigation into what caused the dam failure that flooded mid-Michigan last month, the state announced an independent six-person team