In May, the Edenville Dam, a 96-year-old dam, located near Beaverton, Michigan, failed. That failure led to the subsequent failure of the Sanford Dam, near Sanford, Michigan, and to record flooding that forced over 11,000 people to evacuate, and ruined the homes, businesses and lives of many Mid-Michigan residents. Since then, the Mackinac Center and its employees have been at the center of attempts to rebuild and to better understand why the failure happened and how to shape policies that will help to avoid similar failures in the future.
After floodwaters washed away portions of the towns of Edenville and Sanford, they flowed downstream, flooding low-lying portions of Midland, the Mackinac Center’s home city. When the waters finally crested, they were at the highest level ever recorded on that section of the Tittabawassee River, and only a few hundred feet from the Mackinac Center’s front door.
The day after the flood, the Mackinac Center’s president, Joe Lehman, was able to both thank and reassure our supporters, noting that while the flooding was receiving international attention, the Mackinac Center did not suffer any physical damage. “Mackinac is doing fine — no damage — and steaming at nearly full speed ahead. But a few of our teammates were forced to evacuate their homes and are still assessing extensive property damage. All are accounted for and no one is hurt.”
Lehman suggested that people who wanted to help should approach the Midland Area Community Foundation’s Flood Relief Project Fund and the United Way of Midland County's Rise Together Fund, both of which were established to provide disaster relief in Midland County. He explained that “because of your past support, we are strong enough to help others.” We remain committed to helping our community and state as we move through the policy confusion left in the flood’s aftermath.
Immediately following the flooding, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visited the area and argued that her administration had campaigned on improving the state’s infrastructure. The dam’s failure, she said, demonstrated that private companies should not own critical infrastructure.
Reporting by Michigan Capitol Confidential, however, revealed that the governor’s first budget had tried to cut Michigan’s modest spending on dam oversight ($350,000) by $150,000. Subsequent reporting by The Detroit News also demonstrated the Michigan Department of Natural Resources had denied a $1.6 million grant request for repair work from the Four Lakes Task Force, the potential purchaser of the dam.
The Mackinac Center’s Environmental Policy Initiative focused heavily on the issue throughout May and June. We were quoted and published in a rapid succession of commentaries and op-eds on the Mackinac Center blog, Michigan Capitol Confidential, the Detroit News, Washington Examiner, Center Square, Midland Daily News, Chemical City Paper and others.
Two Mackinac Center experts, President Joseph Lehman and Director of Environmental Policy Jason Hayes, joined David Kepler, president of the Four Lakes Task Force, in a virtual policy event. Together, they addressed the question, “What caused the failures, and how can we begin to repair the damage?”
The Mackinac Center’s final report expands on the question. You can read this report online at www.mackinac.org/27849.