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Report says state's investment in safety of dams 'lacking for decades'

Sanford Dam in July 2020
Posted at 2:43 PM, Oct 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-01 14:47:48-04

LANSING, Mich. — A new report is saying Michigan's investment in the safety of state-regulated dams has been "lacking for decades," which increases risk to both the public and environment.

The report also found that the Michigan Dam Safety Program is "understaffed" and "constrained by limited time, resources and budget."

It offers the state 19 recommendations and calls for the owners of "high-hazard dams" to perform engineering re-evaluations to uncover "latent dam safety defects," according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) today. The department requested the report.

The findings are based on a model statewide program for dam safety.

The "ASDSO Peer Review Report" was conducted by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) and presented today to the Michigan Dam Safety Task Force.

EGLE said the task force will analyze the report "as part of its review" and help state regulators and lawmakers prioritize recommendations to determine which are "most necessary and impactful to undertake."

“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.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the program review and a forensic investigation of the failure of the Edenville and Sanford dams in mid-Michigan after days of heavy rain this year.

The state said the flooding displaced nearly 11,000 people and damaged roughly 2,500 structures.