Ashley Schafer | Ashley.Schafer@hearstnp.com | June 19, 2020
Just 14% of affected households across five counties were covered by insurance
The Midland area community is navigating life one month after the dam failures and historic flooding. Data is being collected, clean-up efforts are underway, and some questions remain unanswered.
Disposing of debris
With more than 97,000 cubic yards of flood debris that was generated by flood damage, the City of Midland reopened its landfill to residents in late May after it had been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Midland Landfill Superintendent Scott O’ Laughlin said in the last few weeks, there have been about 6,500 vehicle loads of flood debris on top of 3,800 loads of non-flood debris brought to the landfill. This is about 3.5 times the typical waste volume for one month, he said.
Still, the landfill’s capacity still has a long life, O’ Laughlin said, with 40-60 years of space remaining. He said the flood generated dramatic quantities of debris, but accelerated the lifespan of the landfill by about three months.https://92a5dfa396e25352e9a19ea3294ada41.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
On Monday, Whitmer officially requested a major disaster declaration for the five counties affected by flooding, after the Edenville Dam collapsed on May 19, followed by the failure of the Sanford Dam.
If the declaration is granted by President Trump, it could provide supplemental financial assistance from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist individuals, small businesses, local governments and the community. In 2017, it took just over a week for President Trump to make the declaration.
Based on preliminary damage assessments, Midland County was most heavily affected with damage concentrated in the City of Midland and in Sanford Village. According to FEMA, there were 49 homes destroyed, 509 that had major damage, and 614 with minor damage or that were affected.
Across the region, more than 2,340 homes were destroyed or sustained damage for a total damage estimate of $190 million.
This week, at least 130 residents are still displaced from their homes and the Midland County Emergency Management is working to get a more accurate snapshot of how many people need long-term, temporary housing. The American Red Cross has established 24 non-congregate shelters, such as at hotels, and at its peak, had 240 people in temporary shelters.
The preliminary damage assessment also concluded that an “overwhelming majority” of the affected households did not have flood insurance. Across five area counties, just 14% of affected households had insurance policies covering flood damages.https://92a5dfa396e25352e9a19ea3294ada41.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
Lost services and changing landscapes
In addition to loss of property, about 300 Gladwin County residents lost access to water through their wells, and phone and internet services are finally being restored to about 1,000 TDS Telecom customers after the company announced its central hub in Sanford was a total loss.
In the weeks following the flood, 4,675 people filed for unemployment in Saginaw, Midland, Arenac, Gladwin and Iosco counties, which is a 400% increase compared to the number of claims made during the same time last year. In the first week of the flood, May 16-22, 1,703 unemployment claims were made.
With the failure of Edenville and Sanford Dams came the loss of the lakes they created — Wixom and Sanford Lakes. Erosive soil now remains in their place, posing safety concerns to patrons in and around the lakebeds. Officials have warned to stay out of the bottomlands.
In the last few weeks, cleanup and volunteer efforts have been underway – many volunteers coming from outside communities. This sparked a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Dow Diamond, in which 2,435 people were tested. Of that group, the Midland County Health Department reports just five were found to be positive for the virus.
The flooding also prompted visits by several politicians, including Whitmer and her lieutenant governor, U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, and U.S. Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow.
The stability of riverbanks and threat of migrated soil contaminants like dioxins and furans is still under scrutiny as the state, Dow and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) work to understand the impacts the flooding had on contamination cleanup efforts. Sediment and soil samples are being taken and results are expected in the next couple weeks.
In addition to understanding environmental impacts, an investigation into exactly why the Edenville Dam failed is currently underway by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). However, the Four Lakes Task Force and local lawmakers like Rep. Annette Glenn, R-Midland, and Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, have called for an independent, third-party investigation.
EGLE Media Relations and Public Information spokesperson Nick Assendelft said an independent, third party will do the forensic investigation, however until that’s announced, EGLE is compiling information that “may be beneficial to the probe.”
As remediation efforts continue, several class action and mass tort lawsuits have been filed pointing blame of the event at the dam’s owner, the local counties, EGLE, and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, among others. These cases will take multiple years to play out and resolve, and they are in the very early stages.
However, the Edenville Dam had a long history of safety concerns. Specifically, it was known at least as early as 2004 that the dam’s spillway capacity was not adequate and 14 years later in September 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission finally revoked owner Boyce Hydro Power’s license to operate energy on the dam. Regulatory oversight then went to EGLE and around the same time, the lake associations formed the Four Lakes Task Force to take over ownership and maintenance of the dams.
In addition to the dams and lakes, many home and business owners are faced with uncertainties as they look to rebuild. Those living in the floodplain are faced with decisions of whether to fill in their basements, raise the level of their home above the floodplain, or whether it’s even feasible for them to rebuild. The long-term effects on Midland’s population is unclear, though City Manager Brad Kaye acknowledged that many residents will choose to relocate.
Twice this year, the Midland Area Community Foundation (MACF) responded quickly to emergencies by setting up relief funds. First, a pandemic, and one month ago to the historic flooding and dam failures. Initially, the Flood Relief Project Fund had $250,000 contributed by MACF and $250,000 in matching funds but it has since had a total of $1.7 million in contributions.
To delegate the funds, the community foundation is working with Midland County Emergency Management as well as a disaster recovery group formed by local partners and nonprofits to identify and address needs in the community.
MACF is currently working to use the fund to hire two case workers to help with construction management and rebuilding needs.
“I have been so amazed and touched by the outpouring of support from our community, our state and our country,” Mortensen said. “The past month has tested all of us personally and professionally in ways we never imagined. We have an amazing team of community partners and volunteers willing to do whatever is needed to help our neighbors. The compassion, kindness and care shown by all those involved has been inspiring.”