Months after devastating flood, Sanford residents wonder if they want the lake to return at all

Oct 15, 2020

Five months after a devastating flood destroyed much of the village of Sanford some residents say they’re bouncing back - others say they’re just doing their best to prepare for winter.


In May, CJ’s Hairstyling in downtown Sanford was destroyed. The insides were covered in the same layer of mud that blanketed much of the town after the dam just up the street collapsed.

A photo of CJ's Hairstyling taken right after the flood is hung in the new restroom

Now, owner Connie Methner is giving a haircut.

“I’m so busy I can barely get out of bed in the morning I’m so crippled,” she said. “But I’m not complaining one bit it’s better than being home all the time. This is the best place I could ever dream of having.”

Methner reopened her doors last week and said she’s been booked up with hair appointments ever since.

That’s good because Methner said she’s paid for a new place with a mixture of grant money from the Midland Area Community Foundation, personal savings, and donations.

"We never even looked at it as a risk before. Nobody thought this was going to happen."

“We used up our savings, we used every penny we’ve ever had,” she said. “Now we live every moment paycheck to paycheck.”

Connie Methner

Kim Methner, Connie’s husband, is a pipe fitter by trade and did most of the renovations on his own. He said he’s hoping to catch a break.

“My retirement was official May 1st this year, my last day of work was the 6th, and this (the flood) hit the 19th. I haven’t had a day off.”

Down the street from Connie, on the West end of the village, construction workers are in the process of re-paving the road into town.

Ray Bauers’ R & R Auto Sales sits near this construction. It was one of the stores hardest hit by the flood. He said his house near the now-drained Wixom lake was also flooded.

A photo of R & R Auto Sales taken just days after the flood

“So I’m trying to get a home to live in now, this has had to wait,” he said. “It’s been hard trying to get anybody to help.”

Bauers said he’s been living out of a trailer while he repairs his house. FEMA has helped cover the cost of a new furnace, but wouldn’t cover the cost of his hot water heater.

"I don't want a loan. I can't afford to pay it back. I have no job, I have no income, how do you expect me to pay it back?"

His frustrations mounted when he realized The Small Business Administration would only offer loans to help re-start his business.

“I’m 66 years old,” he said. “I didn’t plan on starting over again. I don’t want a loan. I can’t afford to pay it back. I have no job, I have no income, so how do you expect me to pay it back?”

The Four Lakes Task Force has proposed a $338-million plan to rebuild and renovate the dams impacted by the flooding and to restore the drained Wixom and Sanford lakes. The plan would require local homeowners in the region to help pay for the project, sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars every year. The plan does not require homeowners’ approval.

Ray Bauers

Bauers said he doubts he could afford it.

“I think that’s a bunch of BS. Why should we pay for something somebody else caused? That doesn’t make sense. Taxpayers have always done that. Bailed everybody out. Not this time.”

County officials say they are still in the process of determining how many area residents are living in tents or trailers heading into winter. As of October 15th, $27-million in FEMA assistance have gone to assist residents impacted by the flooding.

Sharon Mortenson is with the Midland Area Community Foundation. She said now local organizations like hers are working to figure out what needs they can meet that the Federal Government hasn’t.

“What are the remaining needs and let’s deploy the remaining dollars to help with that.”

Penny Tyler is a Sanford Resident who had a house donated to her by Great Lakes Homes.

"A lot of people I see on Facebook crying about their dock when I went under 9ft really perturbed me. Oh darn, you lost your dock and you lost your lake. Lotta people down here don't have homes."

“I live in Sanford Michigan and the floods took everything from me,” she said. “But I got gifted.”

Tyler’s new home is a one-story that she occupies with her little dog, Bugs. She said at least on her street, residents are doing well.

Penny Tyler

“I’m not sure how many people are still in tents or motorhomes or RVs,” she said. “I don’t see it myself but I know there are still people needing a lot of help.”

Tyler said she isn’t so sure she wants the Sanford dam to be rebuilt at all.

“If they ever put that back together… I don’t really know if I really want them to,” she said. “We never even looked at it as a risk before. Nobody thought this was going to happen. We all just thought we’d be right back. We got back and there was nothing left.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Connie Methner, of CJ’s hairstyling. Her business is downtown but her house is just west of where the Sanford Lake used to be. She said the idea that residents won’t get a vote on whether to make huge payments to help rebuild the dams just doesn’t make sense.

“My mom’s going to get it and she’s 91,” she said. “She doesn’t make any more money. How fair is that? The attitude is that if you can’t afford it, move. Mom’s 91. She shouldn’t have to move.”

Methner said she’s been frustrated by some of the responses she’s seen to the flood among other community members.

“A lot of people I see on Facebook crying about their dock when I went under 9ft really perturbed me,” she said. “Oh darn, you lost your dock and you lost your lake. Lotta people down here don’t have homes.”

A spokesperson with the Four Lakes Task Force said before they assess properties to determine how much each resident will have to pay a third party group will survey homeowners about their interest in restoring the lakes.

The task force said in a statement that “Restoring the lakes has to be affordable for the community and this will be a major factor in the decision on how we proceed,”

The survey is expected to be conducted early next year.