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Task Force Weighs Options To Improve Dam Safety Following Spring Failures

Ben Thorp
R&R Auto Sales in Midland after the flood.

The Michigan Dam Safety Task Force held a meeting on Monday to discuss recommendations for how the state should oversee dam safety - particularly at privately-owned dams.

In the Spring, the failure of the privately-owned Edenville and Sanford dams led to millions of dollars in damages and the evacuation of thousands from the region.

Now, the task force is reviewing how to better protect residents from similar disasters.

John Broschak is a member of the task force. He is also Vice President of Generation Operations and Compression at Consumers Energy.

“There are many examples in this country where we wait until the disaster to take action,” he said. “There’s been a disaster and we’re being asked to help avoid the next one.”

There are roughly 2,500 dams across the state of Michigan. Of those the state has identified five that are both “high hazard” dams and in poor condition.

Taskforce members noted the state should prioritize it’s five high hazard, poor condition dams.

Broschak said he’d like to see the state move to a licensing model for dam ownership.

“The reality is many of these dams were put in place. We don’t know their purpose, they don’t have clear ownership, and we have to clean that up,” he said. “I see licenses giving us a pathway of getting into the escalation and resolution process of either getting an owner in place or eliminating the dam to remove the safety risk.”

Bill Rustem is with the task force. He said dam owners need to be held responsible for all dam maintenance.

“We want to make certain that he or she understands that he or she is responsible for the maintenance of that dam,” he said. “And then we know there are going to be orphaned dams out there that are going to require some funding so we want to create a dam safety emergency fund. We don’t have an idea other than the general fund for how we get that.”

The recommendations will eventually be part of a report presented by the department of environment, great lakes, and energy.

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