Whitmer to seek flood disaster aid; Midland area damage pegged at over $175M

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer plans to make a request to the federal government within the next week for a disaster declaration for five counties hit May 19 by historic flooding. 

Whitmer made the announcement during a televised press briefing from Sanford in Midland County, one of the hardest hit areas after the breach of the Edenville Dam. 

Damages to homes and business are believed to total around $175 million but the final cost to the area is expected to eclipse $200 million with another roughly $34 million in damages to public property and response costs, said Midland County Commissioner Mark Bone. He promised the county would rebuild.

In total, 2,500 businesses, homes and nonprofits were damaged, with 150 homes completely destroyed and 790 receiving major damage, Bone said. About 8% of the homes damaged have insurance coverage, he said. 

"It’s going to be a very, very tough task," Bone said. "It's going to take some federal money, some state money, some private money but we’re going to get it done.”

U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, has supported the request for a federal disaster declaration and thanked Whitmer for her concern about the area and "prompt response" in requesting a federal emergency declaration. 

"I'm going to do everything I can on the federal level," Moolenaar said. "

A federal disaster declaration would qualify the five-county area — Midland, Gladwin, Arenac, Saginaw and Iosco — for federal assistance in the form of public aid for roads and public buildings and individual assistance for homeowners. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency also works closely with the Small Business Administration, which often helps with low-interest loans for affected businesses. 

Whitmer said Monday the damage in the Midland area goes beyond homes or roads and has even affected well water for the immediate area and upstream. 

"Getting back to normal is going to be a herculean undertaking," the governor said. "If there’s a community that’s up to this challenge, it’s this one.”

The address comes nearly three weeks after historic rains and flooding resulted in the May 19 breach of the Edenville and Sanford dams at the border of Midland and Gladwin counties. 

More than 10,000 people were evacuated from the Midland area during the flooding, and local and state officials have vowed a full investigation into what went wrong.

The Edenville Dam had been the subject of years of regulatory censure by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission before its hydropower generation license was yanked in 2018. 

Records have shown both state and federal regulators suspected or knew the dam did not have proper spillway capacity prior to the May 19 breach and flooding.