After 100 years of neglect, the dam on Wixom Lake failed, forcing the evacuation of 10,000 people — Three years later, has anything changed?

Severe flooding in Midland, Michigan in May 2020.
Aerial shot of severe flooding in Midland, Michigan in May 2020. Photo credit © Kelly Jordan and Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC

MIDLAND (WWJ) – On May 19, 2020 the Edenville and Sanford dams failed, flooding the Mid-Michigan towns of Midland, Sanford and other neighboring communities.

Three years after the devastation, Wixom Lake and Sanford Lake are still empty, lawsuits are still pending and repairs are still ongoing.

On a new Daily J podcast, WWJ’s Brian Fisher wonders what, if anything, has changed and how the residents afflicted have been responding to this disaster.

Jake Riepma, a broadcaster on Audacy’s 97.1 The Ticket and a Midland native, says he was working on preparing a family cottage in Beaverton ahead of the summer when the water levels on Wixom Lake were getting “noticeably high” that day.

“And then I’m not even kidding when I tell you, it was like water going out of the bathtub,” Riepma said. “All of the sudden we just saw the levels of the water go way down and relatively quickly, but we didn’t know at the time what was happening.”

Then he saw the headlines of the broken dam and the ensuing damage in the coming days. But he believes the disaster did have a silver lining, saying that moment “really felt like a time for people to come together.”

“It was a tragedy that turned into an experience that I’ll never forget, in the sense that Midland, Sanford, Beaverton and the surrounding areas really came together after those days to rebuild and really just reconnect with one another,” he said.

In the three years since the devastation, more than two dozen lawsuits filed against Boyce Hydro, the state and even federal government.

“What they’re trying to get is the value of their land. Some people, their homes were destroyed. Their land is gone. They were on a lake, now it’s gone. They want the value of their home,” WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton said, noting the amount of damages is into the millions of dollars.

The legal battles will likely continue for years to come, while Four Lakes Task Force, the non-profit in charge of building the dams, says the final dam – Edenville, where it all began – should be completed by 2026.

Progress for everyone – from lawsuits to restoration – is slow, but it is taking place.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: © Kelly Jordan and Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC