Devastating floods in Michigan have forced thousands to evacuate after the failure of two dams – one of them a known safety risk – raising questions about decaying infrastructure the president and governor have both vowed to fix.

With the 2014 Flint water crisis still in recent memory, Gretchen Whitmer was elected governor largely on promises to repair Michigan’s infrastructure, adopting “Fix the Damn Roads” as an edgy campaign slogan while insisting the state had to “get serious” about rebuilding its streets, highways, bridges – and dams. Following days of heavy rains, however, Tuesday night saw the sudden collapse of two mid-Michigan dams within hours of one another, releasing a torrent of floodwaters into Midland County and prompting Whitmer to declare a state of emergency as some 10,000 residents fled to higher ground.

The Edenville dam – whose breach triggered a second failure at the Sanford dam downstream – was a known safety hazard, with federal regulators warning it posed a “grave danger to the public” for years. Despite finding in 2018 that the owner of both structures, Boyce Hydro, had “repeatedly failed to comply” with regulators’ requests to upgrade the Edenville dam, the needed repairs were never carried out, leaving its spillways woefully ill-equipped for a major downpour.

Whitmer was warned about these dams two years ago. This disaster is all on her.

Several dams have failed in Midland, MI. 11k people are at risk. Downtown could soon be 9 ft underwater.Also, a chemical plant might be in the flood’s path.This is what happens when we neglect water infrastructure for decades. A horrific tragedy that should’ve been prevented.

After the flooding was underway, Whitmer, who is eyeing a VP nomination as Joe Biden’s potential running mate, deemed the disaster a “500-year event,” telling a press conference on Wednesday that it would “have a major impact on this community and on our state for the time to come.” Though state officials were long aware of the poor condition of the Edenville dam, Whitmer has vowed to “hold people responsible” – apparently seeing no role for her administration in the mishap.

“Regarding the dams, the state of Michigan is reviewing every potential legal recourse that we have, because this incredible damage requires that we hold people responsible, and we are pursuing and are going to pursue every line of legal recourse that we can,” she said.

President Donald Trump said he was “closely monitoring” the situation, noting that the military and federal agencies had been mobilized to help, but added that Whitmer had to “set [them] free” before they could get to work.

Much like Whitmer, Trump also took office on lofty promises to repair US infrastructure, scoring a narrow win in Michigan in 2016 after telling residents his administration would replace the state’s “crumbling roads, bridges and airports” with “the infrastructure our country needs and deserves.” But after repeatedly floating the idea of a $2 trillion national infrastructure bill, the concept has yet to materialize, largely confined to the president’s tweets.

The two politicians have tangled over the issue before, with Whitmer warning Trump that “Bullying people on Twitter doesn’t fix bridges; it burns them,” while arguing that the president and his party have stymied Democratic efforts to improve the country’s infrastructure. More recently, Trump came under fire after suggesting the White House could withhold federal funding from Michigan – potentially depriving it of money needed for infrastructure repair. Though the threat was made over Michigan’s stance on mail-in voting, which Trump deemed “subject to massive fraud,” he said on Wednesday that the funding freeze probably wouldn’t be necessary.

Even 6 years removed from the Flint debacle – in which thousands of residents were poisoned by contaminated municipal water – the problem still has yet to be fully resolved, with many locals still afraid to drink the city’s H2O amid ongoing complaints that it causes rashes and other alarming symptoms. With the catastrophic failure of the Edenville and Sanford dams, Michigan’s infrastructure troubles keep piling up, and neither Whitmer or Trump appear poised to make good on their promises to solve them anytime soon.

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