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House OKs $6M in funding for cleanup in flooded counties

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — House lawmakers voted 107-1 Wednesday to approve roughly $6 million in funding for disaster and emergency relief in counties impacted by widespread flooding. 

The legislation would put the money in the Michigan State Police Disaster and Emergency Contingency Fund, which would then be distributed to the city of Midland and Midland County to reimburse the communities for response efforts that have included debris removal, contamination clean up, evacuations, shelters and property repair.

An amendment to the bill adopted by the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday morning expanded funding eligibility to Iosco, Arenac, Gladwin and Saginaw counties. 

Mark Musselman brings a chair to the front of his house from the back yard, wading through floodwater, Tuesday, May 19, 2020 in Edenville. People living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river have been evacuated following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area.

The funding, which next will move to the Senate, is contingent on a federal disaster being declared in those counties, a designation that has been requested but not yet granted by President Donald Trump.

"The amount of devastation they are experiencing is unimaginable and has been made even more severe by going through this in the middle of a global pandemic," said Rep. Annette Glenn, R-Midland, the bill's sponsor. "Let's get these people the help they need."

Midland and Gladwin counties were among the hardest hit when historic rains between May 17 and May 19 led to widespread flooding. 

Toward the end of the storm, on May 19, the Edenville Dam bordering Gladwin and Midland counties broke, sending a surge of water down the Tittabawassee River and over the top of the Sanford Dam downstream.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer requested a federal disaster declaration from Trump Monday and estimated the flooding caused an estimated $245 million in damages across five counties. 

The House Appropriations Committee earlier Wednesday rejected several amendments to the bill, including ones that would reimburse Attorney General Dana Nessel for an investigation into the owner's liability, add $10 million for repairs at other high-risk dams and language that would open the money up to other communities affected by lesser floods. 

The committee did adopt amendments that would add basic reporting requirements on the money's use and language that would allow the state police to accept reimbursement for the money distributed through any civil or criminal fines that come from the investigation into the Edenville Dam's failure. 

Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, who introduced the amendment regarding reimbursement, urged fellow lawmakers to ensure "equitable response to disasters around the state" and hold accountable those responsible for the failure. 

"There still is I think some work that needs to be done on this right now," said Hoadley, noting lingering questions about the duration of the funding and replenishment of the fund.

"There are some big questions about responsibility here,” he said. “I want to make sure that we're being both responsive to the folks of the disaster, but holding people accountable who haven’t been stepping up along the way.”