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Dam task force recommends millions in safety, enforcement improvements

Michigan Department of Transportation

The Michigan Dam Safety Task Force urged the state government to put millions more dollars toward inspecting and maintaining dams in a report published Thursday.

The task force was established after the Edenville and Sanford dams failed last year, devastating the nearby village.

“The state is heading toward a grave situation with many dams if significant investments are not made in the short and medium term,” the report’s authors said, making 86 recommendations for dam maintenance and repair.

“There is a funding gap of at least $225 million in state funding over the next 20 years to manage aging dams,” they said.

Nick Assendelft, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, said state officials were “excited” about the report’s recommendations.

Dam safety was underappreciated in Michigan until the failures last year, he said. Now, “the important thing is raising awareness of the issue and coming up with recommendations on how we could possibly move forward here to make sure that dams are in the best shape that they can be.”

Those recommendations call for stronger enforcement against rule violators, more funding for dam repairs, and a larger workforce for dam inspections.

In May last year, when the dams failed, the state had only two dam safety engineers to inspect thousands of dams, and high hazard dams had to be inspected only once every three years

The report recommends hiring more inspectors and increasing the inspection rate to once a year for dams rated the most hazardous.

The state environment department is in the process of increasing its dam inspector workforce to five, said Assendelft. “Of course, we’d love to have even more,” he said.

Brett joined WCMU in February, 2021, as a general assignment reporter. He was previously the health reporter at WXXI Public Broadcasting in Rochester, N.Y., and has filed stories for National Public Radio, IEEE Spectrum, The Village Voice and other outlets.
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