A Scene Like No Other: Sanford One Year Later

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By: Dave Lingholm

For Mike Clever, his scheduled week off started off like any other.

The 20-year Consumers Energy lineworker had gone into Sanford to pick up a few things early the morning of May 19, 2020. The community was watchful for the potential for flooding, a regular occurrence after a heavy rain like the one the town had experienced two days before.

Forty-five minutes later, the urgent order to evacuate the town was made. First the dam in Edenville failed, then the one in Sanford, both owned by Boyce Hydro. The next few days were unlike any he had experienced in his career. But his first thought once he knew he and his family were going to be safe? What was going to happen to his community?

“My first thought was what was going to happen to the town. We were getting warnings for a few days, but this one was worded differently, and I wondered how bad this was going to be,” said Clever.

Once he knew it was safe to leave his house, he went right to work. In his career, he has helped communities recover after severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. He prides himself on being able to look at weather forecasts and being able to give a good estimate to his family about how long he was going to be gone helping restore power.

“I didn’t have words to describe what I saw. I couldn’t tell my family how long this job would take for us. In fact, I never saw town until four days in. That is when it hit me just how long it was going to take for us to restore power,” he remembered.

What impressed Clever next was how professional his colleagues from around Consumers Energy were in getting to work. Any catastrophic event hits lineworkers and natural gas crews emotionally because they are often some of the first people to arrive. For those arriving from out of town, Clever thinks this one hit a little harder. It fueled their drive to do their work safely and as quickly as possible.

The result was an appreciative community. Electricity and natural gas service are vital when you are trying to rebuild, and the work Consumers Energy crews did to restore that service was a relief to many when they returned home. Especially when people realized how much new wire and pipeline had to be installed just to get them back online.

That work, done in the span of a few weeks, included:

  • Installing nine miles of new natural gas main to permanently restore service
  • Using two mobile compressed natural gas trailers while permanently restoring natural gas service
  • Drilling a 1,100 foot line 56 feet below the river bed to run new electric lines
  • Installing a mobile substation to restore electricity

Everyone impacted by the flooding had their electric and natural gas service restored within a month, and the community is now focused on rebuilding. Sanford’s hardware store just reopened a week ago, but many businesses will never return. What Clever hopes is that people around Michigan do not forget about Sanford and the challenges the community has in front of them. Or doubt his community’s resolve to rebuild.

“The rebuild is not over. There are still a lot of people struggling. Around here, many people were used to Sanford flooding, but they have to know that this was not like that flooding,” he said. “The diehards in our community want people to know that they’re not going anywhere.”

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