(TNS) - As Midland County continues to assess more than $175 million in damage from last month’s flooding, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer plans to ask the federal government for more help.
Whitmer announced Monday that she will seek from the federal government a major disaster declaration for areas of Midland County, as the staggering amount of damage from dam failures along the Tittabawassee River begins to become clear.
More than 2,500 homes, businesses and nonprofits were damaged or destroyed by the floods, with estimated losses of $175 million, said Mark Bone, chairman of the Midland County Board of Commissioners. Some 150 homes were destroyed, with another 790 suffering major damage that may yet be declared total losses, he said.
Probably only 8% of those affected had flood insurance, Bone said.
“Most people that got flooded by this, they weren’t in a flood zone,” he said. “So they’ve lost their homes. We are taking calls every day about how we make this right with them. We are trying to figure that out.”
Another $34 million in damage was sustained on public property and to nonprofit organizations, Bone said.
The flooding came May 19 and 20 after the failures of the Edenville and Sanford dams along the Tittabawassee River following days of heavy rains. Whitmer called it “an event unlike anything we’ve ever seen in 500 years.”
A major disaster declaration from the federal government will open up resources such as crisis counseling for those in the affected area who need it; funding for debris removal and road repairs, and low-interest loans for homeowners, renters, business owners, farmers and nonprofits, Whitmer said at Meridian Elementary School in flood-ravaged Sanford.
“We know there are people that have lost everything — homes they have lived in and built up over the course of decades,” she said. “People have spent their whole lives building up small businesses in this community, who are afraid they won’t be able to overcome the damage.”
Whitmer also defended having the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy lead an investigation into the failure of the two dams. Some have questioned the role EGLE, the state Attorney General’s Office and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources may have played in the failure of the dams. The agencies sued dam operator Boyce Hydro LLC this spring for winter water drawdowns behind the Edenville Dam on Lake Wixom the past two years, citing their impact on freshwater mussels and other aquatic life.
EGLE also approved Boyce’s request in April to raise Wixom Lake’s water level almost 8 feet, to its typical summer level. That lake-level increase was completed in early May, before the torrential rains and dam failure. The state approval came despite record-high water levels statewide and several springs in a row of heavy rains, and EGLE officials earlier expressing concern over the Edenville Dam’s inadequate spillway capacity to handle heavy rains and flooding.
“It’s going to take a certain level of expertise to really get to the bottom of all of the different factors that contributed to the failure of these dams,” Whitmer said. “We also know there aren’t a lot of agencies that have that kind of expertise. And so working with EGLE, with some independent investigators as a part of that, I think is the best way to move forward. So that’s what we’re doing.”
Whitmer added that there will be “ample opportunity for us all to scrutinize their findings,” and that EGLE also will be asked to assess and report on dam safety overall in Michigan and the state’s regulation of it.
Former lakefront residents on Wixom and Sanford lakes, impoundments created by the dams that failed last month, now live next to vast mud fields and the re-emerging Tittabawassee River.
Rebuilding the dams and lakes might take several years, particularly as a tangled mass of litigation has just gotten underway. Bone said Wednesday the rebuilding of the Edenville and Sanford dams is projected to cost “$200 million or more.”
When asked whether she supported rebuilding the dams, Whitmer said, “I’m inclined to say yes,” but that she needed more information.
“There are all sorts of ramifications from the failure of those dams that we are still getting our arms around,” she said. “That’s why I’m reticent to say precisely what the next steps need to be, and what the end goal is. But the end goal is, of course, to restore this community as well as we can to the greatness it was prior to this event.”
The letter to the Trump administration requesting a major disaster declaration will be submitted by next week, Whitmer said.
“This is something that is a very intensive process, where all of the information has to be collected in support of that request,” she said. “We want it to be granted, and so we’ve got to get it right. And we’re moving quickly. An incredible amount of work goes into this.”
The full range of flood damage is still being assessed. Whitmer noted that in addition to washed-away and damaged bridges and roads, a number of drinking water wells throughout the region have been fouled. Providing clean drinking water for residents who need it “will have to be a part of our FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) assistance that we are hoping to get into Michigan,” she said.
U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, a Republican from Midland, praised the community’s work, already started, to recover.
“There’s been an effort of volunteers, people who are doing so much to keep the optimism, resilience and strength of this community looking forward, and helping neighbor help neighbor,” he said.
Added Bone, “This community is a strong community. They’re ready to rebuild.”
Contact Keith Matheny: 313-222-5021 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @keithmatheny.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan puts $175M price tag on flooding damage in Midland County
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