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State will order bankrupt Sanford dam owner to make fixes

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Michigan will order the owner to fix and improve two dams that overflowed into the Tittawabassee River last May. That may be easier said than done.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (DEGLE) on Tuesday released the first of several reports on the Midland and Sanford dam breaks that caused catastrophic flooding and dislocated roughly 11,000 people.

Luke Trumble, DEGLE’s dam safety engineer, said the first step is temporary repairs to ensure there’s not a repeat of the May catastrophe. 

“So this would be to address the immediate concerns as we move into the spring where we could get a better chance of high flows again, that the dam is stable and secure, and that another failure event doesn’t happen in the meantime,” he said.

The state will come up with the plans, but it will be up to dam owner Boyce Hydro to carry out and pay for the construction. But Boyce Hydro has filed for bankruptcy. An attorney for the company said the state won’t get “blood from a stone.” 

DEGLE Director Liesl said the 500-year flood event should lead to a big-picture examination of infrastructure in the state and how it is managed. DEGLE has commissioned an independent review of Michigan’s dam safety program. The group will ID dam safety regulations, standards, dam management and need for investment.

“This tragedy reminds us that risk cannot be eliminated entirely. But people should not have to go to bed afraid,” she said.

There are more than 25 hundred dams in the state. 

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