After flood, Michigan prepares to hire third dam safety inspector

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The state of Michigan will hire a third dam inspector for the 1,050 dams it regulates and form a task force to review dam safety operations roughly two months after a dam failure in the Midland area raised questions about state and federal oversight. 

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy expects to hire a senior environmental engineer as a third inspector as it waits on the results of two independent reviews of the state's dam safety operatons, the department said Thursday. 

One review on the state's Dam Safety Program will be led by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, while another will be led by the Michigan Dam Safety Task Force into other aspects of dam safety in Michigan. The state task force will be made up of local governments, state and federal agencies, and "affected stakeholders," EGLE spokesman Nick Assendelft said in a statement.

The Edenville Dam as it breached on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

A third review will task six independent experts with finding what factors contributed to the May 19 failures of the Edenville and Sanford dams in the Midland area. Privately owned Boyce Hydro is supposed to pay for the contract. 

The up to 18-month investigation has not yet begun because Boyce Hydro has not agreed on a contract with the six-expert team, according to EGLE. 

"Boyce has also ignored key deadlines to perform critical post-failure evaluations and work related to the portion of the Edenville Dam along the Tobacco River," Assendelft said in a statement. 

Since the flood, the state has identified areas of potential erosion, inspected dams affected by the flood, begun assessments of stream channel stability, and assessed any natural resource damages, according to the state. 

The Edenville Dam failed amid historic rains May 19, sending a surge of water downstream and over the top of the Sanford Dam. 

The dam owners had been scolded by federal regulators for more than a decade before the the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked the dam's hydropower generation license in 2018. 

Regulatory authority over the dam was transferred to the state, a move some experts have criticized as a clumsy hand-off that left the state scrambling to understand the dam's full breadth of problems.