Dave Kepler, Four Lakes Task Force

Dave Kepler, president, Four Lakes Task Force.

(The Center Square) – If all goes according to plan, rebuilding the Edenville Dam and fixing three other dams in Gladwin and Midland counties should take between three years and six years and cost more than $220 million.

Those estimates were given Tuesday by Four Lakes Task Force President Dave Kepler, who discussed the details in a special webcast forum hosted by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a nonpartisan think tank located in Midland.  

According to its website, FLTF is a “Designated Authority formally created by resolutions in Midland and Gladwin counties to administer and oversee the maintenance and operations of the four dams and lakes.”

FLTF was positioned to assume ownership of the four dams – Smallwood, Secord, Edenville and Sanford – on the Tobacco and Tittabawasee rivers from Boyce Hydro Power LLC a mere weeks before massive rainfalls caused the earthen spillways of the Edenville Dam to collapse, causing a rush of water to overtop the downriver Sanford Dam.

The resulting flood on May 19 necessitated the evacuation of 11,000 residents and inflicted an estimated $200 million in property damages.

FLTF had intended to purchase and repair the dams with a $5 million state grant as well as a $350 per household annual special tax assessment on households and businesses located on the lakes created on the impoundments between the dams. FLTF was scheduled to make its first installment payment in June 2020, just a few weeks after the catastrophe.

Kepler announced on June 15 FLTF was abandoning its attempt to impose the assessment. Instead, he said FLTF would seek other public and private funding sources, including $1 million from individual donors; $3 million from foundations and institutions; and $4 million from government grants.

However, his comments Tuesday seemed to walk back his June 15 statement. The FLTF “plan is feasible with funding from downstream partners, state and federal grants, with support from the Army Corp of Engineers, (U.S. Department of Agriculture), and other agencies,” according to the FLTF website. “Any remaining funding would be provided by the current Special Assessment District.”

All told, Kepler said the project’s first stage would cost $8 million to purchase the dams and maintain them in their present state.

In addition, he said $40 million would be needed to stabilize the dams, control erosion and remove debris, and, on top of that, $50 million to design and build new infrastructure.

The minimum cost to repair all four dams would be $220 million, Kepler said. However, this estimate would not allow three of the dams currently capable of generating hydroelectric power the ability to do so.

The Edenville Dam had its license to produce hydroelectricity revoked by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in September 2018.

Kepler said he considers Boyce Hydro accountable for the expenses, but wrote on the FLTF website “it is highly unlikely we can expect any financial recovery from Boyce given the multitude of legal issues and other claims.”

Regional Editor

Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.