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Residents react to new report about cause of 2020 Edenville Dam disaster

42-page report was released this week about the investigation into the Edenville and Sanford dam failures
Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 3:43 PM EDT
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SANFORD, Mich. (WJRT) - A new 42-page report was released this week about the investigation into the Edenville and Sanford Dam failures from May 2020 and now locals are reacting to the report.

The report was conducted by the Independent Forensic Team. A five-member team that was tasked by FERC in August 2020 to look into what led to the dam failures. The report, in great detail, explains what happened in the days leading up to the failures and offers an explanation as to what likely caused the dams to give way.

“Reading it was a little bit emotional because you know, you’re reading a timeline of events that unfolded and there’s imagery,” said Teresa Quintana, a Sanford resident.

Quintana has been heavily involved in the recovery efforts in Sanford over the last 16 months and she said that reading the report did make her angry.

One part of the report that did stick out to Quintana was a part that discussed clay tile underdrains. This part of the report went into why the Edenville Dam failed in the section that it did.

The report said there were two possible explanations as to why. One explanation is that the section of the embankment that failed had the loosest sand and that caused it to fail. However, the other possibility is one that investigators believe is perhaps “more plausible.”

Investigators said that clay tile underdrains beneath the embankment were missing in the failure section. It is unclear why they were missing and that it is possible that they had become buried or never even installed in that area.

In 2012, the report said there was an investigation of the drains and it did not find any drains beneath the failure location. Investigators believe the lack of drains in the failure location could have resulted in added strain at that particular location.

“That’s very frustrating with the amount of entities that were involved in regulating or maybe not regulating the dam operations and Boyce Hydro,” Quintana said.

ABC12 did reach out to the Four Lakes Task Force. It released this statement:

“We are pleased to see this interim report from the forensic investigation team. In this interim report, the IFT’s findings to date on the physical mechanisms are presented in only summary form, with all the detailed evidence being compiled and presented in the IFT’s final report to be issued in the next several months.

FLTF provided information and data as requested by the forensic team, but otherwise had no role in the investigation. FLTF is not ready to offer our perspectives on the findings. We will review the results, compare with our knowledge based on our reading of the report and our work on these dams over the last year, and comment in the coming weeks. We also look forward to the completion of the final report.”

Moving forward, Quintana wants to focus on what happens next. She said she hopes the state will help cover some the costs to rebuild the dams and that changes are made so this never happens again.

“We can’t really accomplish things out of anger and so unfortunately, we are the community that get to teach, know better, do better,” Quintana said. “And we’re the community that is going to make a difference in how these dams are regulated in the state of Michigan and hopefully all over the United States.”

This interim report just details the physical mechanisms of the dam failures but the team is currently working on the human factors of the dam failures as well and will release that information when it is complete.

To find the 42-page report, click here.

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