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Federal officials stripped a Michigan dam’s license to operate in 2018, turning oversight over to state regulators before the dam failed on Wednesday and caused severe flooding throughout the region.
State officials inspected the dam and its spillways shortly after the dam’s license was revoked, declaring that the dam stood in “fair structural condition.” Regulators quickly moved on to tracking freshwater mussels in the area, which were being threatened by what they deemed was an unlawful drawdown of Wixom Lake, according to The Detroit News.
The Edenville Dam, operated by Boyce Hydro, failed after heavy rains pounded the area. The breach overwhelmed another dam and caused roughly 10,000 people to flee from their homes just hours before up to 9 feet of water swamped parts of Midland County, Michigan.
Michigan officials at the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy said that regulators did not have sufficient time after taking over oversight of the damn from federal authorities to thoroughly inspect the structure and catch up on the state of the dam. Federal officials had been prodding the dam’s current and former owners to address structural issues for nearly two decades.
“The state has only had authority over the dam for a year and a half,” department spokesman Nick Assendelft said. “Having not had a previous regulatory role we started from Ground Zero in our assessment of various aspects of the dam’s condition and capacity.”
The governor and state attorney general have said they plan to find the parties responsible for the disaster and hold them accountable.
“Regarding the dams, the state of Michigan is reviewing every potential legal recourse that we have cause this incredible damage requires that we hold people responsible,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said on Wednesday. “We are all trying to understand all the different proceedings that have taken place up to this point. The initial readout is that this was a known problem for a while and that’s why it is important that we do our due diligence and take action.”
The governor has declared a state of emergency and called on the federal government for aid.
“Over the past two days, a major rainfall event in mid-Michigan led to the failure of two dams and severe flooding in affected areas. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate as water surged into their streets, homes, and businesses in the county of Midland,” Whitmer said in a statement.
“If you have not evacuated the area, do so now and get somewhere safe,” Whitmer said. “This is unlike anything we’ve seen in Midland County. If you have a family member or loved one who lives in another part of the state, go there now. If you don’t, go to one of the shelters that have opened across the county.”
The catastrophe has wrecked the state’s strategy for handling the coronavirus pandemic, forcing people to move in with relatives across the state or into shelters.
As The Daily Wire reported:
“The incident is proving difficult for Michigan and its governor, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, who has been adamant about enforcing the state’s coronavirus-related stay-at-home order. Now, residents of Midland and surrounding areas must break quarantines and self-isolation to stay with friends and family or in designated emergency shelters until the water recedes.”
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