The Four Lakes Task Force is a community-led and volunteer effort that has partnered with Gladwin and Midland counties. FLTF points to the financial history and management of the dams and questions whether the hydroelectric generation revenues from the dams can provide sufficient income to ensure their proper and long-term management and maintenance. FLTF has been designated as the “delegated authority” for the counties to help manage these dams.
To reverse the chronic underinvestment and ongoing decline of the dam properties, the FLTF agreed to purchase the four dams from Boyce Hydro in December 2019. The purchase agreement was for FLTF to acquire the dams over a two-year period and, beginning in 2020, to bring them into compliance with state and federal standards, using funds from Midland and Gladwin counties and assessments on local residents.
The task force has worked with the counties and Boyce Hydro to plan for future upgrades and maintenance of the four dams. FLTF also established the Four Lakes Operating Company to operate and act as the licensee of the hydroelectric facilities at the Sanford, Smallwood, Secord and Edenville Dams.” The agreed price for the dams and connected lake bottoms was $9.4 million.
Four Lakes Operating Company was to pay a further $6.6 million to acquire and manage the hydroelectric dams at each of these locations. FLOC was expected to meet several goals: manage the water levels in the four lakes as required by state law, comply with federal regulations and renew federal licenses for each dam, meet state safety standards, and sell electricity to Consumers Energy and use sales to offset costs of owning the dams.
FLTF planned to mix special assessments — paid by area residents, beginning with the winter 2021 tax bill and continuing for 20 years — with support from the two counties to pay for necessary repairs and upgrades. Repairs were to be carried out on all four dams over the upcoming three years.[*]
FLTF had already completed about $300,000 in repairs to Edenville Dam in early 2020. A further $2 million in additional work was planned to be completed the following winter.
After the May 19 flood, however, FLTF are “reassessing the path forward to acquire the Boyce property and rebuild our dams and lakes.” In a public statement, FLTF made it clear that the previously negotiated purchase will not occur, but has reiterated its commitment to completing the purchase and restoration of the dams. The task force stated that their goal is “returning these lakes to a recreational and natural resource gem of the region.”
FLTF has published an updated three-year plan to achieve four key restoration objectives:
- Immediately minimize erosion of the lake beds and lakeshore properties.[†]
- In year one, acquire the dams and lake beds and establish a restoration plan for each.
- In year two, complete federally required flood studies that will allow the task force to target full compliance with federal and state regulations.[‡]
- In year three, create a plan to complete the reconstruction of the damaged dams.
FLTF is targeting the restoration of the four lakes within a six-year period: Smallwood in three years, Secord in four, Sanford in five and Edenville in six.
FLTF believes the long-term prospects of completing these tasks are good, given that several long-standing communities have grown up around the dams and lake and “created significant economic, recreational and social benefit” to the area. The Midland and Gladwin county governments also support the new plan, and funding for the project seems promising as the property values in the special assessment districts around the lakes is valued at about $800 million. State and federal grants may also be available.
[*]Lakefront owners would pay an estimated $350 annual assessment. Backlot owners would pay an estimated$88 annual assessment. These assessments were associated with dam maintenance and repairs and were to be managed separately from hydroelectric generation revenues and maintenance expenditures. See: “Special Assessment District” (Four Lakes Task Force, 2020), https://perma.cc/54Z9-RVXZ.
[†]The Patricia and David Kepler Foundation gave a $100,000 grant to FLTF to host a “Shoreline Erosion Engineering Fair,” on June 18 and 20, 2020, where “residents impacted by the Tittabawassee River flood” were able to “talk to engineers and shoreline erosion experts free of charge about how to remediate [their] property and stabilize [their] shoreline.” The event allowed residents to “create a plan to slow the erosion taking place on [their] property.” “Shoreline Erosion Engineering Fair” (Four Lakes Task Force, 2020), https://perma.cc/EGK6-23M7.
[‡]In a June 10, 2020, presentation by EGLE representatives to the Michigan Senate Energy and Technology Committee, Luke Trumble, a dam safety engineer with EGLE pointed out that a high hazard rating describes the potential damage that could be caused to life, property, and infrastructure if a dam were to fail. It does not indicate the likelihood that a dam will/will not fail. Therefore, a completely safe, properly maintained dam can have a high hazard rating.