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County leaders give OK for special assessment district to repair damaged dams and restore lakes drained in 2020 flood

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Gladwin and Midland county commissioners listened for more than an hour as residents spoke for and against a special assessment district to repair the dams that failed in 2020.

The effort to repair mid-Michigan dams damaged in a 500-year flood event in 2020 has taken a big step forward.

On May 19, 2020, the nearly century-old Edenville dam failed after days of heavy rain. The resulting cascade flowed downstream, overwhelming the Sanford dam and inundating parts of Midland and Gladwin counties.

Thousands were forced to evacuate their homes. Many homes and businesses were washed away. The dam failure also drained Wixom and Sanford lakes.

On Tuesday, Gladwin and Midland county commissions unanimously approved a special assessment district to help pay to repair the dams and restore the lakes.

Dave Rothman, vice president of the Four Lakes Task Force, said millions of dollars from the special assessment and $200 million from the state should help restore what was lost by 2026.

“We’re off and rolling,” said Rothman.

The plan includes renovations to two other dams (Smallwood and Secord) upstream of the Edenville dam.

Officials said barring delays, work on all four dams should be complete by the summer of 2026.

Several hundred Gladwin and Midland property owners attended a special joint county commission meeting Tuesday. A majority supported the plan and special assessment district.

The average property owner will pay about $180 a year during the next several years.

In another three years, there will be new operations and capital assessments. After that, assessments will likely rise, particularly for lakefront property owners.

Some at the meeting argued local property owners weren’t responsible for the dam failures and should not have to pay hundreds of dollars a year for decades to come to pay for their replacement and maintenance.

Resident Carol Healy said the Four Lakes Task Force has not been transparent enough.

“You do not respond to us,” Healy told task force officials on Tuesday. “And if you do, you’re hostile.”

Rothman defended the task force’s track record for holding public meetings and working to assist property owners concerned about their assessments.

He said next steps include developing engineering plans, construction plans and bidding contacts.

Rothman admitted he worries about rising construction costs. He said the task force will receive initial project bids on some of the dam work by the end of the year.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Radio since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.