Look to bureaucratic confusion to be the crack that will widen in the divide who should bear responsibility for catastrophic dam failures and flooding in Midland.
As has been widely reported, federal authorities warned about the state of the Edenville Dam on the Tittabawassee River for years. Eventually, this led to the dam's permit to generate electricity being revoked, in 2018. A planned sale to the Four Lakes Task Force was in the works, with a special assessment set up to finace the sale and improvements. Critically, regulatory oversight was shifted from federal to state government.
"I think the collective view of this was that there wasn’t a good handoff between the federal government and the state," the president of the Four Lakes Task Force told the Detroit News.
Four months before the Edenville Dam failed, the state discovered the 96-year-old structure didn’t meet even state standards for its capacity to withstand major flooding, according to inspector emails.
But the state’s concern that the dam couldn't accommodate a flood half as big as might be predicted differed from federal assertions, prompting a months-long attempt to reconcile the assessments in a larger report on the dam's condition.
The final analysis had been expected in March, but an engineer with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) told consultants on Jan. 31 that the dam was deficient even without considering the impact of waves on Wixom Lake.
As the floodwaters have receded, official focus will turn to damage assessments and assigning responsibility for the disaster. Lakefront property owners lost their lake, and those below the dams lost homes, vehicles and more.