Year in Review: Four Lakes Task Force with Dave Kepler

Intro by Ron Beacom:

Over three and a half years have passed, since the Tittabawassee River disaster devastated communities along the river's corridor. The breach of the dams on Wixom and Sanford Lakes on May 19, 2020 left a trail of damage and destruction of homes and businesses. Fortunately, no lives were lost.

The clean up began right away and the effort to restore the dams and the lakes soon followed. It's been a long process led by the Four Lakes Task Force (FLTF), a non-profit and the designated authority of Midland and Gladwin Counties.

At the helm is Dave Kepler, president of the FLTF, and a former executive vice-president at Dow, Inc. Kepler and his wife, Patti, live in Sanford. Through their foundation and the family's business, Turtle Cove Properties, the Keplers are involved in many charitable and economic development initiatives in Midland County.

Article by Dave Kepler:

This year ends with construction underway at all four dams and lakes! Secord, Smallwood, and Sanford dams are fully permitted and in their final phase. The Edenville Dam embankment currently is being rebuilt and restored, and we are now seeking bids for Edenville’s last phase of construction on its spillways. 

 Work on Smallwood Dam
2023 is also ending with headlines declaring one of the prior owners of the Four Lakes dams is liable for $120 million dollars in natural resource damages to Michigan’s fisheries and freshwater mussels. The funds from the federal court ruling are unlikely to benefit the Four Lakes restoration since the former trustee and the Boyce entities declared bankruptcy in 2020. We understand the frustration of many property owners in the Four Lakes Special Assessment District who are left to address the damages of the prior owner.
We are entering into another period of lake community discussions and review, with more hearings, including one for the EGLE permit for Edenville Dam in January and one for a Habitat Conservation control Plan (HCP) for the endangered snuffbox mussel in April. The first hearing next year will be in January for the final financing plan for the Four Lakes’ dams, an important event given the increase in project costs primarily due to material and labor inflation and a construction market stimulated with the infusion of billions of federal infrastructure dollars. We remain committed to lowering the financial burden for restoration as much as possible.
Crane at Sanford Dam
Since the May 2020 event, more than 50 permits have been issued while working with over ten state and federal agencies. We anticipate being issued our final permits next year for Edenville Dam, which, ironically, will be to address the impact to mussels and the refill of Wixom Lake. Despite receiving generous funding from the state and federal governments, the community will still need to pay as much as $200 million through assessments, grants, and donations. We remain committed to lowering the financial burden for restoration as much as possible. 

Since the dam failures, we have faced significant trials and setbacks, but each time we have found a path to press forward. There is an old proverb that says, “You can only go halfway into the darkest forest; then you are coming out the other side.” We are coming out the other side. At the end of 2023, we are closer to achieving our mission to restore the lakes than we are from when the dams failed.

Temporary bridge at Sanford Dam
Four Lakes Task Force is committed to continue to support the community in restoring these lakes and their natural resources, and to ensure that there remains a system and culture of stewardship to keep them sustainable into the future. We thank the thousands of people who share this mission and are supporting our efforts to achieve it. 

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