Jun 1, 2020
After torrential rain, a series of dam failures caused flash floods in a three-county area near the city of Midland, 140 miles northwest of Detroit. In this flood’s path were largely working class and poor communities. In a tribute to the power of working-class know-how, over 11,000 people evacuated on short notice, with no loss of life.
At least one nursing home and one retirement community had to be evacuated in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic!
As far back as 2004, it was found that the largest of the 3 failed dams, Edenville, would not have adequate spillway capacity to handle a major flood. Federal and state government reports were filed year after year—some warning of disaster—but nothing was done.
Flooding caused more than a half a billion dollars of damage to residents, many of whom were under-insured or not insured for flood damage.
The small, largely poor town of Sanford, Michigan was wiped off the map by this flood. Compare that to the two wealthy multi-millionaire cousins, Lee Mueller and Michel d’Avenas, who owned Edenville Dam, the largest and the first to fail. They were able to avoid paying the IRS $600,000 in taxes by purchasing 4 small-town hydroelectric dams 14 years ago.
These owners, and all previous owners, disobeyed federal government orders to increase and repair spillways to prevent floods. These guys were the third owners that had been told to fix the spillway by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and did nothing!
There are 2600 dams in Michigan and about 75% are privately owned. When these dams were first built, their hydropower generated big profits. Now, they are over 50 years old and need repair.
The nearby city of 40,000 that flooded, Midland, is near one of the U.S.’s largest toxic waste clean up sites. Many fear that Midland County’s 500-year flood may have destroyed past attempts to remove toxic dioxins from a superfund site there.
Midland is home to the corporate headquarters of Dow Chemical, a subsidiary of parent company Dow, Inc. Dow Chemical reported over 43 billion dollars in revenue in 2019.
According to one researcher, the national price tag to address all major dam problems across the U.S. is about $70 billion. This one corporate subsidiary, Dow Chemical of Midland, Michigan, reported more than 70 billion in revenue in 2 years. Certainly the money to repair infrastructure exists.
Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, vowed to pursue “every potential legal recourse” against whoever was responsible for the failures. Is she ready to indict the whole system?
The words of one local observer describe the situation well: “I want to point out how weak and spineless the federal and state government’s reaction and directive to all this has been so far...Thousands of people have lost EVERYTHING... [the owners] should be prosecuted—Now!”