In an emotionally charged special meeting Tuesday afternoon, county commissioners from Gladwin and Midland Counties approved a capital improvement project and operational costs for rebuilding the dams that failed in 2020.
It’s been over two years since the May 19 dam failures at Sanford and Edenville. The failure at the Edenville dam, upstream on the Tittabawassee River, unleashed millions of gallons of water onto neighboring towns and cities. Ten-thousand people were evacuated and 2,000 homes were destroyed.
The proposed capital improvement project at $250 million will go towards restoring the dams. In addition, $4.7 million was approved for administration, operations and maintenance of the lake levels and related facilities of the Four Lakes Task Force, a non profit of volunteers, designated by the counties to operate and maintain the four lakes and dams. Those four lakes are Secord, Smallwood, Wixom and Sanford Lake.
Four Lakes said during the special meeting that they had surveyed with 90% of them approving of the costs. They also agreed on the three-year operations and maintenance special assessment.
The special assessment district (SAD) was approved by commissioners meaning the homeowners in the district will see their taxes increase. Depending on the property value of the home, it could range from
Several homeowners disapproved of the Four Lakes Task Force handling the operations of the dams and lakes. They also did not agree with Four Lakes leasing vehicles for staff to use in the field, and didn’t agree with the commissioners for delegating responsibilities to the non profit.
“You guys don’t have a right. We have the rights. And if you want to turn those rights and the privileges that’s violation,” says one woman who refused to state her name and address during public comment. “These people have a right to hold you accountable. And I will help them do it.”
One gentleman, Gary Housen of Sanford, said the money being taken from the counties’ general funds to help cover costs should be left out.
“I want these people have their water back. They want it back. That’s great. But we keep the general fund out of it,” he said.
Money is also coming from the state with $200 million earmarked for Michigan dams that had failed. In addition, Four Lakes Task Force President Dave Kepler said during the meeting that they had received private donations to help offset costs.
The majority of people speaking were for the approval as they wait for water to once again return to their backyards.
A Millington woman, whose family built their 700 sq. foot cabin in 1936, longs for the water to return.
“When I look at old photos, photos of my great grandparents and my great aunts and uncles taking a dip in with some lake after a hard day’s work building our cabin, I can’t imagine life without water again,” she says, holding back the tears.
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