Task force delays report recommending changes to Michigan dam safety regulations | Michigan Radio
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Task force delays report recommending changes to Michigan dam safety regulations

Feb 3, 2021

The view of the Sanford dam hours before it was inundated by flood waters streaming down stream from the Edenville Dam after it failed May 19th 2020
Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio

It will be a few more days before a task force set up to study Michigan’s dam safety regulations will finish its final report.

The delay is because of concerns about the “tone” of the document.

The Dam Safety Task Force was created after last May’s failures of the Edenville and Sanford dams. The twin dam failures contributed to a 500-year flood event which caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. Rising floodwaters forced thousands in Midland and Gladwin counties to evacuate their homes. 

The task force has come up with a wide spectrum of recommendations for modifying and updating Michigan’s regulations for publicly and privately owned dams. The recommendations would expand the number of dams regulated by the state.

Some of the changes are administrative and can be accomplished by the supervising state agency. Others will need legislative approval and budget increases.

The task force members met on zoom Wednesday for what was expected to be their final meeting to approve their report. They didn’t. Instead, the panel requested revisions to “soften” some of the language in the final report.

Bill Rustem is a task force member. He’s also a former advisor to former Michigan governors William Milliken and Rick Snyder. Along with other task force members, he expresses concern about the “tone” of the draft report.

“I do see some language that could be changed.....I’m going to use a bad phrase....but kind of fearmongering,” says Rustem. 

While the panel agreed to delay action on the final report to give staff time to address some language issues, several task force members stressed the need that the report maintain a “sense of urgency.”

“The bolder we are the better chance I believe we have to address a ticking time bomb in the state,” says John Broschak, task force member and vice president for Generation Operations and Compression at Consumers Energy.  

The final report is expected to be revised by the end of the week. 

Then the next step is toward implementing its recommendations.

Liesl Clark is the director of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.  She says the department has already created a dam safety unit and hired additional staff, among other things.

“We have the appetite to do more,” says Clark. “The recommendations here will...give us a stepping stone to do more.”

But the more contentious recommendations will need legislative approval, including increased regulations on dam owners and increased budgets for dam safety programs. 

“We work at the pace of government,” says task force chairman Even Pratt. “Don’t expect anything fast.”

Pratt says, even if all their recommendations are quickly put in place, it will take at least a decade to begin to see the effects of dam safety task force’s work. 

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