Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Remove Argo Dam?

18. December 2005 • Murph
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The News today has an extensive article on the idea of removing Argo Dam, allowing the Huron to run freely between Barton and Geddes Ponds, uncovering 40 to 50 acres of (city-owned) land, which would likely be used for parkland, and saving $20,000 a year in maintenance costs. Opposed is the local rowing community, which relies on Argo Pond.

The city’s environmental commission is expected to start drafting a management plan for the Ann Arbor section of the Huron and its impoundments. And that will mean addressing river management questions – such as whether to remove Argo Dam, an idea the state Department of Natural Resources has advocated for a decade because of the detrimental environmental impacts.

Removing the dam would eliminate the pond and allow the city to reclaim land along the river. An estimated 40 to 50 acres of city-owned land now lies under water. It’s valued at roughly $4 million to $5 million – a gold mine of potential parkland in a city where large tracts of vacant land for any use are essentially gone.

In addition to expanding recreational opportunities on the newly reclaimed land, the move also might create new water recreation options because the river may have enough of a gradient change to produce some whitewater.

While park supporters and those focused on the river’s environmental health think the idea of removing the dam is worth debating, opposition is growing in the Ann Arbor rowing community.

  1. Note that Steve Bean, occasionally seen in these parts, has been known to Chair a certain Environmental Commission, so perhaps can answer questions about this idea…
       —Murph    Dec. 18 '05 - 04:57PM    #
  2. I’m a member of the rowing club and have heard this idea floating around a couple of times in the last couple years. People in the article made several excellent points against dam removal, but some of the larger community and city issues were not addressed, particularly on the parks side of things.

    Bandemer Park, where the rowing clubs are located was GIVEN to the city by a private property owner with the stipulation that the rowing clubs (who had been rowing from his property for many years) be able to continue their operations on that property. As a result of the community service and recreational opportunities that the clubs provided, the city built the Ann Arbor boathouse and leases it to the Ann Arbor Rowing Club (AARC), which subleases space to the high schools. The city parks department is currently working on major improvements at Bandemer (and other Huron River Greenway improvements, I understand), including building new structures for the clubs—they clearly are operating under a different set of assumptions in the public interest than the environmental commission is.

    Both the Michigan men’s and women’s clubs used to row on Argo; for a year or so way back in the day they rowed on Barton Pond (all of these “ponds” are wide parts of the river created by damming, it should be emphasized), but were kicked off because Barton Hills property owners did not want that kind of activity on their section of the river. The women went varsity and now row on Belleville Lake, about 15 miles from Argo—there really aren’t many different options for rowing in the Ann Arbor area (and it’s totally anti-environmental to force these people to DRIVE way out of town to row [many people, myself included, can and do bike the mile-or-so to Argo]).

    It would be terribly foolish to basically kill established, competitive and community-oriented recreational clubs in favor of the opportunity for a different kind of recreation whose viability and community benefits we can only speculate upon. I might also note that the AARC makes the river available so broadly you would hardly believe it—paraplegic and blind community members regularly row on the river, because of the nature of the sport and because the club is so community-oriented (Julie Harrison, whose passing was noted here, is an example of a community member who participated in AARC activities). I’m skeptical that whitewater canoeing could provide such activities if it were even generally viable along this extended stretch of the river (the propects for even kayaking don’t look too good downriver in the undammed sections of the Huron).

    My thought is that we should skip the “turn back the clock” strategies and focus instead on management and stewardship. If Argo Dam was the LAST dam on the Huron until the lake, maybe, but it’s not. There would be high community cost and low community benefit to getting rid of the dam.
       —Dale    Dec. 18 '05 - 06:14PM    #
  3. If Argo Dam was the LAST dam on the Huron until the lake, maybe, but it’s not.

    Gotta start somewhere.

    I personally belong to the Edward Abbey school of dam “stewardship and management”. As in – what do you call four sculls full of dynamite floating downriver towards the dam? A good start.
       —Murph    Dec. 18 '05 - 06:36PM    #
  4. That’s a good institution; I belong to the Jane Jacobs school of parks and recreation—parks are worthless unless we give them uses that will draw people. We might gain ACRES of parkland for the city by removing the dam—and eliminate the chief draw to the Huron River Greenway (rowers outnumber canoists and kayakers at least 10 to 1, from what I can tell).
       —Dale    Dec. 18 '05 - 07:28PM    #
  5. What if instead of eliminating the dam, we retool both barton and argo to produce electricity? The city can sell the joice to DTE, and use the revenue to buy parkland OR subsidize the costs of heating low-income families’ homes in the winter. i mean, the start up costs are probably only tens of millions of dollars…

    we got the dams, we might as well use em.
       —Bates    Dec. 18 '05 - 08:19PM    #
  6. The fishing is too good above the dam, especially around M-14. If the dam is removed most of the game fish like the pike and catfish can’t survive in a whitewater river type of situation, which would be muddy for a couple of years afterwards I would imagine. The water level would be lowered and narrowed all the way to the Barton dam and that wouldn’t be very attractive. Plus the rowing clubs have a nice open area to practice because there is no one else in the way. Geddes Pond is too busy with novice canoes and residents on Barton will never let the rowing teams up there. I don’t think you want to see what is under the surface of Argo pond anyways.
       —Tom    Dec. 18 '05 - 11:25PM    #
  7. One thing the article fails to address are the safety and flood issues should the dam be removed. No offense to the rowers, but you’re not even close to being on my list of concerns with regards to removing a dam.

    FEMA puts the homes and businesses within the area in the “special hazard” flood classification. It doesn’t get anymore flood-y than that… Just the words “creating whitewater” in such a place makes me quite uneasy (full disclosure: I live nearby and pay through the [insert favorite bodily orifice here] for flood insurance, but hope to never have to make a claim).

    Should anyone have scientific numbers on the repercussions of dam removal, aside from saving some fish and cutting back on sediment and weed thickness, I would greatly appreciate it.
       —FAA    Dec. 18 '05 - 11:43PM    #
  8. Yipes—I didn’t realize that was the case. Maybe this is why the USGS guy called the Huron “flashy” at this point?
       —Dale    Dec. 18 '05 - 11:52PM    #
  9. The city parks department is currently working on major improvements at Bandemer (and other Huron River Greenway improvements, I understand), including building new structures for the clubs—they clearly are operating under a different set of assumptions in the public interest than the environmental commission is.

    Yes, that’s true since we (Env. Comm.) aren’t operating under ANY set of assumptions—and I don’t think we plan to. :-)

    In fact, we’re just starting to look at this issue. We’ll be getting more info from staff over the next couple months. I expect we’ll have at least one public hearing. (And, of course, we have public comment opportunities at the beginning and end of each meeting. Next regular, 4th-Thursday meeting is Jan. 26, 6:30pm, in council chambers.) I’ll be watching here for comments and will attempt to answer questions to the extent that I can.

    For now, I’ll point out that the flood protection provided by the dam is reduced by the level of siltation in the impoundment. According to our city staff, it’s quite high in Argo.
       —Steve Bean    Dec. 19 '05 - 01:10AM    #
  10. According to our city staff, it’s quite high in Argo.

    Um… the siltation, that is—not the flood protection.
       —Steve Bean    Dec. 19 '05 - 01:12AM    #
  11. I like the general concept of dam removal. I was glad to see that apparently there is not a lot of pollution in the sediment around the dam.

    The dam no longer serves its original purpose, after all.
       —David Cahill    Dec. 19 '05 - 01:12AM    #
  12. There is a concept in historic preservation circles known as “adaptive reuse.” When a particular structure is no longer serving its original function, oftentimes it may be adapted to another. That is, a factory building may be renovated and turned into residential, office, or commercial space. A residential building may be altered-with minor investment-and put to productive use as an office or a retail space.

    One might ponder much of the Liberty St. corridor or Kerrytown before fixating on such facile phrases as “original purpose.”
       —Dale    Dec. 19 '05 - 01:21AM    #
  13. Dale,

    Care to share with us what new use the dam should be put to and how the pros of that reuse outweight the cons? I think we all realize that old structures can be reused. But not every reuse is a positive for the community and the question here is whether keeping the dam is good for the River and the overall community or not.
       —John Q.    Dec. 19 '05 - 03:34AM    #
  14. In an effort to focus this discussion before it gets too emotionally heated, this is a list of potential issues to consider. I found the original article inflated by opinions from those interviewed and lacking in useful information. It would be great if some data could be provided to aid discussion on these topics:

    1)Costs involved
    The article states that $20,000/year could be saved in costs associated with operation of the dam, but does not estimate the costs of removing the dam, which would certainly be a large financial burden. Does anyone have an estimate on this? Further, the cost of maintaining the additional parkland needs to be considered. Ann Arbor residents have a reputation of supporting the creation of parks for which they are unwilling to provide a sufficient maintenance budget. Is there a per acre maintenance cost we can associate with this land? Will the new banks of the river require protection? The relocation of the Argo livery and the rowing launch would also have to be considered in the cost.

    2)Do Nothing costs
    The costs of the project should be compared to the financial requirements required if the dam is not removed. Dredging has come up as an expense, but it seems to me that whether the dam is removed or not, the dredging will still be required. On top of this we are paying some environmental costs that have yet to be internalized, though I’m not clear as to what these are exactly. Point being, there is also a cost involved with keeping the dam as-is.

    3)Changes in recreational use
    Removing the dam will clearly impact rowers and possibly create other recreational opportunities. The article notes that over 600 people use Argo pond for rowing. In volume, this group is an insignificant 0.5% of the city’s population. However, this group is an important stakeholder in the pond and should have some influence. Tom makes a good point that fishing will be impacted as well. Perhaps in the long run it would amount to more of a change in species than a loss of population, but the impact would almost certainly be negative in the short run. Contrary to Dale’s claim that rowers outnumber canoists by 10 to 1, I bet that rental numbers from liveries that use this route would demonstrate otherwise. It would be nice to have that number.
    I also think that the rowers have not presented (so far) a convincing argument that the activity could not be moved to another location. There are at least two other locations nearby that meet the physical requirements of the sport. Clearly there are obstacles, both politically and organizationally, to changing locations. On the other hand, this may be a good opportunity for rowers to bargain for improved facilities. Over all I do not find recreation to be a significant factor in this decision.

    4)Environmental impact
    The idea to remove the dam appears to have come from the Department of Natural Resources. While this project’s aim would be to improve the river ecology, that goal is muddled by suggestions of land value and white-water. It would be a great help to this discussion if someone could outline exactly how the river would benefit (or suffer from) the proposed dam removal. Do we have case studies of other removals, or projected changes to refer to? It seems to me that this decision should hinge on the environmental impact and that other concerns can be accommodated if the removal could provide such improvements. The big issue so far seems to be that removing one of many dams will have no impact. If this is not the case, could someone more knowledgeable in this area demonstrate why not? I personally disagree with Dale’s “I’ll do it once everybody else has” argument. That seems a sure-fire way to kill any possibilities.
       —Scott TenBrink    Dec. 19 '05 - 04:59AM    #
  15. Its current use of enabling community recreation (and preventing flooding?) seems to be adding significant value to the city while functioning outside its original scope of power generation.

    I’d much rather see environmental groups, the city, and recreational users come together on a strategy to improve the river without eliminating rowing. This seems like a pretty easy position to reach, as all three groups agree that the river’s condition could be improved.

    It seems like a pretty easy strategy to me to recruit the #1 group of users of a body of water for moderate improvement that has consensus appeal rather than dramatic change that eliminates those users from future enjoyment and from future ownership of improvement plans. I would love to know how many people pushing for removal actually use the river or greenway for recreation.
       —Dale    Dec. 19 '05 - 05:08AM    #
  16. Scott—on usage, think back to your planning training—most rowing users are on the water multiple times a week throughout the whole year. It’s like counting trips on a road.

    For example, the scullers I row with number about 5 in the core group. No big deal—they’re .005% of the city’s population, right? However, they are each out at least 300 times a year—I wouldn’t be surprised if the total trips of this group exceeded the total number of trips by all canoists. I can guarantee total trips by the 600 club participants is several times greater than the comparable number of canoists (and all other users put together).

    On the impact of removal of this dam, it seems a Pyrrhic victory for the environment unless there is a concerted effort to eliminate downstream dams.

    I’m with you on the need for significant data, appropriately considered.
       —Dale    Dec. 19 '05 - 05:37AM    #
  17. Okay, last post of the night.

    “I also think that the rowers have not presented (so far) a convincing argument that the activity could not be moved to another location…Over all I do not find recreation to be a significant factor in this decision.”

    Rowers have been using this stretch of river for nearly three decades and have made several significant efforts to relocate, without success (except the now-varsity women’s team, which rows on the east side of Ypsi). As I noted, for a period the college teams rowed on Barton Pond with the permission of a private property owner and they were told in no uncertain terms by the community that that use (nature and intensity) was unwelcome. I’m not only saying that this is an important spot for rowing, I’m saying rowers themselves have tried to find other spots, to no avail. Barton, by all accounts is a better stretch of river except it is quite a bit farther from town and less accessible to the public. Finally, I reiterate that Bandemer Park was given to the city with the requirement that rowing continue there.

    And Scott, I hope if you think recreation is not a significant factor in developing or altering the greenway that you are nowhere near any decision makers in this process.
       —Dale    Dec. 19 '05 - 06:00AM    #
  18. Despite points of disagreement, I think Dale and I are generally concur that scullers are a key player in decisions about Argo pond. And I would also “much rather see environmental groups, the city, and recreational users come together on a strategy to improve the river without eliminating rowing.” In suggesting that recreation is not a significant factor in the decision I did not mean to imply that current users do not deserve a voice in the process, only that they could be accommodated either way.

    My line of reasoning is that there are other locations that could physically accommodate rowing, Barton pond being the closest to the current site. Previous efforts to relocate seem to have been lacking in any support from other key players, resulting in the Barton community’s effective veto of relocation to Barton pond. I’m suggesting that if there is significant support for dam removal, that support may provide an opportunity for the rowing community to leverage its position to obtain access to areas that were previously unavailable. To pose this in a different way, if the rowing community were offered relocation to Barton pond with improved facilities and perhaps a bike path that connects the existing path around Argo, would the rowing community be willing to support the dam removal? This alternative may draw support from the cycling community as well (note: based on the bike rack at the launch, scullers are a dedicated group of cyclists).

    Could we clarify the exact consequences of moving rowing on Bandemer park? Does the rowing community’s possible consent to relocation change impact this stipulation? Does it apply to the whole of the park, or only the rowing access area? What are the consequences of breaking the rowing access agreement? Reversion of the land to the previous owner?

    Data check: I had no idea that scullers were on the water 300 times a year. They are obviously more dedicated than I thought. Is this right? Doesn’t that mean that they would be rowing 300 days, or 10 months out of the year 7 days each week?

    Overall, I’m not willing to take a pro-removal position at this point. There just isn’t enough information yet. But I am interested in how such a proposal might benefit existing users to build larger support. This idea applies not only to this situation, but to planning in general. I look forward to more content from those in the know as we continue this discussion.

    Oh, have no fear, Dale. I moved to Bangkok after graduating and have been lurking here as a remedy to homesickness. So in a sense, I could not be further from the decision-making process.
       —Scott TenBrink    Dec. 19 '05 - 06:46AM    #
  19. The scullers (individual grad students and locals) are the most dedicated of the rowers—about 7 months out of the year, 6-7 days a week and 2x a day for more than half that (these are the people who row in the national championships). The college men are out 6 days a week for about 20 weeks a year; high schoolers are out about 5 days a week 12 weeks a year and then there are the numerous AARC programs 7 months a year. It’s not really comparable to canoing and kayaking, which is a great service, but is piecemeal usage.

    In terms of the water, Barton is better, but I don’t know that the city has any pull in Barton Hills (the Olmsted-planned community of mega-richies that’s a separate municipality). I’m also a bit skeptical in that, as I noted, the city parks dept has started moving ahead with park improvements on the river—it gives me the sense that one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. I guess we’ll see what happens as this goes forward; I’d like to see a somewhat more concerted consideration of the whole Huron River greenway vision (Calthorping the river?), but it doesn’t always work that way.
       —Dale    Dec. 19 '05 - 07:19AM    #
  20. Yes, the sun now never sets on ArborUpdate!

    As far as the environmental reasons, looks like the best source is the Huron River Watershed Council; see, for example, their 2003 Case Studies in River Restoration Through Dam Removal .

    “HRWC is focused on coordinating the removal of Mill Pond Dam in Dexter to restore the historical connection of Mill Creek to the Huron River, and collecting information and building community support for removal of Argo Dam in Ann Arbor on the Huron River.”

    Though it looks like the report is looking to use these as case studies for removal.

    Fun tidbits –
    * “The U.S. Geological Survey … cites Argo Dam as one of two dams in Michigan that most dramatically alters the natural stream hydrology of its host river.” (Accompanying graph would seem to indicate that the dam harms the river’s stormwater management ability, rather than helping it?)
    * “The Army Corps of Engineers assigns Argo Dam its highest potential hazard rating due to downstream population and infrastructure within the City of Ann Arbor.” (Hazard due to dam failure?)
    * “The [rowing] teams have access to the pond through a renewable 15-year lease with the City that also allows construction of boat houses; the lease is up for renewal in 2017.” (Would that mean the dam could not be removed until then without buying them off?)

    They note that an SNRE masters project team will be analyzing dam removal. That report, among other results, surveyed 2000 Ann Arbor residents and came up with 62% in favor of dam removal and a willingness-to-pay for removal at $22/person annually.

    But – why the heck am I up at 3 am researching dam removal? Ah, yes. A break from final projects & papers.
       —Murph.    Dec. 19 '05 - 07:50AM    #
  21. Dale – I think the Huron River Watershed Council is the equivalent to “Calthorping the Huron”, only they’re both local and long-term.

    P.S. I adore whomever came up with the graphic attached to the article. Scott, that you?

    P.P.S. I read somewhere that Barton Hills used to be part of the City of Ann Arbor, but seceded in the early ‘70s. Can anybody confirm or deny? (Not that it matters, but this seems as good a time as any to ask.)
       —Murph.    Dec. 19 '05 - 07:53AM    #
  22. Barton Hills was incorporated as a village in 1973. It is a subset of Ann Arbor Township (all Michigan villages are subsets of one or more townships), but I doubt very much that the Barton Hills territory was ever part of the city of Ann Arbor.

    Seeing that none of the other dams are likely to be seriously considered for removal, I’m skeptical of the claimed environmental benefits of removing this particular dam. And I think the rowing use is pretty significant and shouldn’t be cast aside lightly.

    On the other hand, if Argo were removed, I would think that the city would have leverage to insist on rowing being allowed in Barton Pond. And the Bandemer deed stipulation is unlikely to be legally enforceable at this point.

    I have advocated for some time that we attend to the risks of major flooding in this area, so I certainly agree that the flood prevention cost/risk/benefit analysis play a major role in this decision.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Dec. 19 '05 - 08:56AM    #
  23. Why on earth did the News decide to run this article at this time?

    They seem to want to put up another “Us vs. Them” scenario here in Ann Arbor.

    “It would be a great help to this discussion if someone could outline exactly how the river would benefit (or suffer from) the proposed dam removal. Do we have case studies of other removals, or projected changes to refer to?”

    We can’t even begin to debate the merits of removing this dam without an awful lot of information that no one has…..

    My father (surprise, surprise) has worked with dams in the design of Federal parks, and he told me that he thought it was strange that they would write an article with such scant information. In other words, where is the debate? There is no debate. All of the parties involved, pro or con, want to gather the information we need to proceed.

    There’s no story here. Put together a detailed study and call us when you’re finished.
       —todd    Dec. 19 '05 - 02:30PM    #
  24. They got me riled up.
       —Dale    Dec. 19 '05 - 02:51PM    #
  25. Todd –
    Community discussion is never a bad thing. “Starting a plan” is a perfectly good point at which to have some of that discussion, especially since the discussion is an important part of any plan. And maybe, as Dale says, we need to “Calthorpe the river” and revisit the overall idea of what we want the Huron River to be.

    Though, while David C. likes to tell us that the people of Ann Arbor have never voted for density, watershed protection was definitely explicitly in the ballot language of Proposal B, so I kind of feel like that step has already been taken. The watershed council notes that there are 75+ dams throughout the watershed, and I certainly think that Ann Arbor should be expected to move first rather than moving last; a general commitment to restore the river’s health, not a detailed plan with timeline and funding sources noted for the removeal of every single dam, should be enough to guide our actions.

    (And they call me a pave-the-earther…)
       —Murph.    Dec. 19 '05 - 03:19PM    #
  26. I’m a member of the rowing club and have heard this idea floating around a couple of times in the last couple years.

    Or was it that you were already riled up, Dale? ;-)

    The information that’s been provided here is helpful. The argumentation and opinions (speculations?) don’t have much value. I won’t be making the case for either side, but will try to introduce relevant info as needed as the commission looks at this.

    In the meantime, Dale, you might give Matt Naud a call (997-1596) and see what he’s been thinking on developing a new rowing facility. He just mentioned it briefly at our last meeting and I don’t know what he meant by it. It would be good for him to have a contact with the rowers in any case. If that’s you, great. If it’s someone else, you could facilitate the connection. Thanks.
       —Steve Bean    Dec. 19 '05 - 03:28PM    #
  27. Murph said: “P.S. I adore whomever came up with the graphic attached to the article. Scott, that you?”

    Yep. That was me. Sometimes I get the creative bug. I actually tried to redo that with the dynamite a little smaller on the dam, but I lost my neatly trimmed dynamite image and didn’t want to retrace it … :)
       —Scott T.    Dec. 19 '05 - 03:29PM    #
  28. Steve—I can’t find recent commission minutes online. Are these archived?
       —Dale    Dec. 19 '05 - 03:38PM    #
  29. Well, I have a pile of them here at home, but I suspect that’s not what you mean.

    Actually, Matt is pulled in so many directions in his multiple roles at the city (Pall-Gelman cleanup and emergency planning in addition to Env. Comm. support) that typing up minutes (and getting them up on the web site) seem to be lowest priority. I’ll pass on your interest. (And if you call him, you can demonstrate it yourself. Or email him—his address is on the site.)
       —Steve Bean    Dec. 19 '05 - 04:05PM    #
  30. _…I certainly agree that the flood prevention cost/risk/benefit analysis play a major role in this decision_

    I would say flood concerns should be the most important factor in this decision. But, hey, maybe that’s just because I’m one of these folks from the HRWC case study:

    Approximately 80 households and 20 area businesses are located in the viewshed of Argo Pond. These residents are the most likely residents to be affected by removal of the dam and, therefore, likely to offer input to the discussion about the dam’s future. Concerns about how changes at the river may affect property values could motivate their involvement.

    Thanks for the link, Murph. Once again, though, I have read a piece on dam removal with absolutely zero data on what may happen 5, 10, or 20 years later down the road with regards to flood safety. I don’t believe the dam is currently preventing floods in the area so much as it is preventing ecological changes which would promote flooding. These possible flood promoting changes have been previously referred to as “river restoration”, but to each their own.

    I enjoy both the phrase and idea of “Calthorping the river”, but am so far not impressed by the HRWC. They appear focused upon environmental issues to the point of nearly ignoring the civil/social… At least they don’t pretend otherwise.

    I am (obviously and currently vehemently) opposed to the removal of argo dam, but some proper information could change my mind. Should there be enough data to support that removal would not increase area flood risks I may even enjoy watching the old dam come down. Until then consider me most likely to chain themselves to it, or a “rower sympathizer”.
       —FAA    Dec. 19 '05 - 04:10PM    #
  31. Just curious as to how Barton Village gets a say on how the pond is used. Do they own the area under a portion of the pond? Obviously some of it is City’s land based on the references to it in the article. As Larry noted, the Village is part of Ann Arbor Township and was never part of the City although the people who live there obviously have more influence than the numbers would indicate.
       —John Q    Dec. 19 '05 - 04:14PM    #
  32. My impression of past experiences was that private property owners controlled all the access points (if not all the land on the banks). That may have changed in the interim.

    I don’t believe the city actually owns or controls the land under the water. The way they would get to control that land (taking Bandemer Park as an example) is that, if the river were narrower, Bandemer Park would be considered to be larger (if defined as the land up until the edge of the waterway), and then would be under city jurisdiction. ie, it would no longer be part of the river. The sheriff and the state DNR are currently responsible for the actual waterways.
       —Dale    Dec. 19 '05 - 04:59PM    #
  33. Apologies for the small interruption:

    Scott Tenbrink, email me if you get a moment: jack DOT wraith AT gmail DOT com.

    We now return you to the regularly scheduled planning debate…
       —Marc R.    Dec. 19 '05 - 05:05PM    #
  34. “I don’t believe the city actually owns or controls the land under the water.”

    I don’t have any maps in front of me to confirm or deny that but I’m pretty sure that the plat maps I’ve seen show that the boundaries of the City properties include all or most of the pond area. This area isn’t like some inland lakes and the great lakes. As far as I know, property ownership includes the entire pond area. Also, I don’t know if the pond is treated as an inland river or lake, as far as jurisdiction goes (DNR, Sheriff, etc.)
       —John Q    Dec. 19 '05 - 06:00PM    #
  35. The parcel number for the pond is:


    FWIW – it’s is owned by the City all the way to the platted lots in BHV.
       —John Q    Dec. 19 '05 - 06:14PM    #
  36. The sheriff comes out and tickets boaters who don’t have life preservers in the boat. If this were all city property I doubt that would be the case.

    I rowed on a pond dammed on one end in Kalamazoo and any changed to the shoreline had to go through the state DNR.
       —Dale    Dec. 19 '05 - 06:15PM    #
  37. Oops, you beat me with the info, John.
       —Dale    Dec. 19 '05 - 06:16PM    #
  38. “Todd –
    Community discussion is never a bad thing. “Starting a plan” is a perfectly good point at which to have some of that discussion, especially since the discussion is an important part of any plan.”

    I obviously don’t mind them discussing this.

    What I do mind is muckraking. Neither the HVWC nor the AA Rowing Club knows for certain what they want to do with the Argo Dam. The News implies that they do, and that both have hard and fast positions.

    They did the same thing with development issues in the Observer, and I don’t like that editorial approach. It doesn’t help either “side”. They are trying to stir controversy when there isn’t any to be had….
       —todd    Dec. 19 '05 - 06:56PM    #
  39. That’s fair. The News focuses more on the few pieces of already-known (or -guessed) information than on the unknowns remaining and process remaining. If you look at the SNRE project done for the HRWC on Argo Dam, it basically assumes Step #1 in removal to be “find an acceptable alternative(s) for the rowers.” No alternative for the rowers, no removal. It’s more “us, therefore them” than “us against them” discussion.
       —Murph.    Dec. 19 '05 - 07:11PM    #
  40. I’m not sure what I think yet about the environmental issues, but I do think the idea of ‘gaining’ park is wrong. What we’d be gaining in land recreational area, we’d be losing in water area and, it seems to me, water area is currently a much scarcer resource in AA than dry land park acreage.
       —mw    Dec. 19 '05 - 09:31PM    #
  41. Thanks, Murph, for the links to these reports. Two points come to mind after reading through them.

    First, I had the same question that Todd voiced. Why is this news and why is the presented this way? Neither of these reports give a clear indication of the actual environmental benefits that would come from dam removal. The HRWC report explicitly states that sufficient evidence has not yet been collected to determine the benefits (or, I would add, the reasons for considering) dam removal. The report recommends following the 7 step guidelines provided by River Alliance of Wisconsin and Trout Unlimited.
    1.Define goals and objective
    2.Identify major concerns
    3.Data collection and assessment
    5.Dam removal
    6.Post-removal restoration
    7.Post-removal monitoring
    In the case of Argo, they have delayed step 1 until steps 2 and 3 are completed as there is disagreement among stakeholders. As a result data is being collected without goals to direct the research. Any effort at decision making at this point would be based on… well, nothing since the first 3 steps are not completed. As I read them, both of these reports assume that the dam should be removed without providing an explanation (except in broad terms) or evidence as to why.
    I don’t see how the management plan that the EC is preparing to draft can address this detail until they have A) a broader management goal for the river, and B) some research to base a decision on. Perhaps Steve can indicate how detailed this plan is going to be and what information will be used in respect to the dam if it is considered at all.
    As for the AA News, I’m in full agreement with Todd that this article was positioned to create more news, not report on current happenings.

    Second, I’m coming back to Dale’s numbers argument. The SNRE survey showed that 95% of recreational users of Argo are land-based. Dale argues that rowers are a smaller number but use the space much more frequently. I agree that a user group with a demonstrated commitment to the space deserves an important place in decision-making, but I’m wavering as to whether that should be based on frequency. My counter-example is that if I drive more frequently than you, I deserve to have privileged input on road improvements. One might argue that roadways are intended for all people, regardless of their consumption of road space, they still live with the results of road decisions. If the dam does have a demonstrated negative impact on the health and well-being of many Ann Arbor residents, is their opportunity to participate lessened because they haven’t paddled around the pond enough?

    More Fun Facts
    ทThe ACE risk assessment is based exclusively on the potential damage of infrastructure and lives lost downstream of a dam failure. This rating does not consider the actual condition of a dam. An old, rickety dam and a brand new one would have the same rating.
    ทDisturbance is a major factor in the propagation of invasive plant species. Any restoration gains from draining the lake should be balanced with the opportunity for new invasives during the disturbance caused by the removal.
    ทBHV lies on only one side of Argo pond. Wouldn’t the park land on the South side (forgot the name) of the pond be a possible location for a scull launch without getting approval from BHV?

    I’d second FAAs request for data on flood impact of the removal, but I’m not clear on the “flood promoting changes” s/he is referring to.
       —Scott TenBrink    Dec. 20 '05 - 08:00AM    #
  42. Scott—under current circumstances, rowing and running activities are accommodated, ie there is no cost to recreation. Removing Argo Dam eliminates rowing recreation by eliminating the pond, so the cost to rowing is exceptionally high, while benefits to running and walking are pretty low (no one suffers from too much traffic on the path, from what I have ever seen).

    Another consideration that hasn’t been addressed in the proto-economic/rational evaluation we’ve been trying to build is the value of robust community organizations. Rowers basically “invented” rowing in Ann Arbor, starting with the UofM college crews. Why would we, as a city, want to move, remove, or supplant a group of committed grassroots recreational organizations from the activity place they essentially created? I’m tempted to take on a project of researching river and river-area use since the 1960s. I’d wager the rowers were one of the original draws to this area and I know they’ve been an essential part of making this area generally attractive for recreation. (I don’t know if other people frequent this area, but it was a pretty bleak industrial area for quite some time).
       —Dale    Dec. 20 '05 - 02:49PM    #
  43. Scott, when I spoke of “flood promoting changes” I was referring to the creation of whitewater amongst other conditions. The silt, which has been known to be piling up along the floor and banks of the river as well as being cited as the cause for “nuisance” vegetative growth, will have very different properties should the dam be removed and the river be lowered. Once this exposed silt is dry the underwater vegetation will no longer survive and the new banks of the river will then be coated with a type of soil which absorbs water at a much slower rate. Combined with heavy rains and/or thawing snow the faster moving waters will rise more quickly than ever before. The near 90º turn the river makes just after the dam site will only amplify these hazards.

    Please keep in mind that I am not geologist. I think the physics are pretty simple, though, and are a part of the reason I would like to see actual studies of the flood risks.

    This from a semi-related note/comment thread:

    I find it interesting that, in the next thread over, the Huron River Watershed Council are being accused of being overly concerned with environmental issues, and they have a public position of channeling development into already urbanized areas…

    To clarify, I am speaking with regards to only the issue at hand. Any organization, such as the HRWC, which states they are “focused on…building community support for removal of Argo Dam in Ann Arbor on the Huron River” without first having proper data demonstrating the benefits outweighing the risks needs to go over their priorities and order of operations one more time.
       —FAA    Dec. 20 '05 - 03:55PM    #
  44. I think that’s unfair to the HRWC. The idea of removing the dam has been endorsed by both the MDNR and the USGS. Presumably, they did so with some discussions of the costs/benefits of such a dececision. The article also references a HRWC report that also endorsed the idea. I haven’t seen the report but based on HRWC’s past work, I would assume that they gave consideration to the points that you raised. I haven’t seen anything that justify’s the statement that HRWC is moving forward “without first having proper data demonstrating the benefits outweighing the risks”. Just because YOU or I haven’t seen such data doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or it hasn’t been considered.
       —John Q    Dec. 20 '05 - 04:59PM    #
  45. “I haven’t seen anything that justify’s the statement that HRWC is moving forward “without first having proper data demonstrating the benefits outweighing the risks”.”

    I haven’t either. They HRWC correctly cites the State of Michigan as being the group who started this whole conversation. I don’t see anything in the 2003 HRWC report that is anything but a discussion of what has been done re: Argo Dam together with what needs to be done in terms of much needed further analysis. There is nothing (in my opinion) that is inappropriate about HRWC’s approach to this discussion. They are acting like scientists, IMHO, and this is a good thing.

    If I were FAA and lived near the Argo, I’d be concerned after reading the AANews story, however…..

    Which is why I find both the timing and the tone of the AANews article so irresponsible. They are stirring the pot, and nothing more.

    They make it sound like there’s going to be a vote on the removal in spring, when in reality, we are years from having the needed data to come to an informed decision.
       —todd    Dec. 20 '05 - 05:12PM    #
  46. I don’t see how the management plan that the EC is preparing to draft can address this detail until they have A) a broader management goal for the river, and B) some research to base a decision on. Perhaps Steve can indicate how detailed this plan is going to be and what information will be used in respect to the dam if it is considered at all.

    Scott, I expect that ALL information will be used. The level of detail of the plan will depend on the input we receive and how much effort we and staff put into it. Another way of putting it is that we haven’t started yet and everything remains to be seen. Those who become informed and stay involved will no doubt help shape it.
       —Steve Bean    Dec. 20 '05 - 05:57PM    #
  47. John Q, The MDNR and USGS made recommendations of removal on a purely ecological basis (and that’s fine by me – I hug trees, respect aquatic life, and realize their roles in such a process and that they’ll never have the involvement with/understanding of a local issue like a local entity). You have assumed there is more data than represented in what is seen to be publicly available without even reading the report… You may be right, but why give so much benefit of the doubt to an organization – regardless of past actions – which puts out a study with what looks to be only a piece of the puzzle of information and still comes away wanting to build community support of removal?

    The report referenced by the article is available here. It contains the word “flood” twice. Once in describing the general purpose of a dam, and once in the footnoted mission statement of the HRWC.

    I doubt I’m the only one with a Pavlovian association of “dam” and “flood”. With that notion (and some scientific relating of the two as well, I guess) I feel well warranted in being critical of the HRWC for releasing a case study of dam removal without so much as a mention of flood concerns. And that’s where my criticalness of them ends…

    I should note that the The School of Natural Resources and Environment master’s project on the dam removal, also previously linked up, was nicely informative. It states the dam currently provides no flood control, yet its first recommendation is to determine “The effect of dam removal on the flood plain and the likelihood of floods and sewer backups”. Thank you academia.

    Which is why I find both the timing and the tone of the AANews article so irresponsible. They are stirring the pot, and nothing more.

    I know, I know… Like Dale I was riled up… Let me know when we can get back to arguing over building heights.
       —FAA    Dec. 20 '05 - 06:41PM    #
  48. It states the dam currently provides no flood control, yet its first recommendation is to determine “The effect of dam removal on the flood plain and the likelihood of floods and sewer backups”.

    Hmmm…I can’t imagine that there’s no difference between the “dam” and “no dam” conditions w.r.t. flood control. (What is a dam in general besides controlled flooding, anyway?) I assume that’s not what they meant, but it’s hard for me to tell what they did mean.
       —Murph.    Dec. 20 '05 - 06:48PM    #
  49. Murph, dams can control how quickly water moves from higher ground to lower ground through the flood plain. So in the case of a flash flood, water can be retained behind a dam and allowed to flow at a pace the flood plain can handle. To prevent floods is often among reasons given to build dams. Of course, with a dam, you do flood the land behind it, but a controlled flood is better than an unpredictable one.
       —Scott T.    Dec. 20 '05 - 07:22PM    #
  50. While dams may prevent some flooding, they can also exacerbate flooding to a large degree when compromised in any way. The Johnstown flood is a prime example of this. This write-up of the Johnstown flood sounds familiar to the Argo situation but thankfully without the topography which made that flood so deadly.

    As more and more dams are coming down, researchers are gathering more data. This is a relatively new phenomenon so only now are we starting to get concrete information on the real effects of dam removal. We well know the consequences of dam installation. I thought this article had some good information and talking points along with an interesting case study in Wisconsin.

    And Dale, it is nice to see you on the “special interest” side of an argument. Of course the pro dam removal people should be called the ArgoNots, but should we be calling you a NIMRP (Not In My Rowing Pond)?
       —Juliew    Dec. 20 '05 - 09:13PM    #
  51. Hee hee, Julie. I strongly support a decision based on costs and benefits—as long as we make sure to consider social costs and assign appropriate values.

    As an enthusiast of planning and urbanism, I agree with mw that an important consideration is maintaining or creating recreational options (as we should do in our housing and transportation options) rather than just increasing current main ones.
       —Dale    Dec. 20 '05 - 09:40PM    #
  52. The article that Juliew points to above is very informative, and deserving of many quotes. However, I’ll highlight only the last paragraph:

    “Still, as dam removal threatens to become a flood tide, David Hart, who leads one of the larger groups studying removals, cautions against overselling the benefits or understating the risks, given the level of ignorance—and the history of river manipulation. Back when large numbers of dams were being built, he says, “The dam builders assured society, ‘We know what we are doing.’ Let’s not make the same mistake with dam removals. We should base them on a good understanding of the science, and if the science is incomplete, let’s at least learn from the removals that are taking place.”

    I found it especial interesting that most dam removal decisions, while supported by environmentalist (on apparently scant evidence), are driven by financial concerns. The article does not explore the implications of these driving forces, but it seems possible (even likely?) that a dam removal that focuses on finance could degrade the riparian and aquatic environment or do little to improve it. Thus it would be all the more important for environmentalists to focus less on whether the dam is removed than on how a potential removal would be accomplished and managed afterward.

    This reasoning flies in the face of organizations that promote dam removal without providing some evidence of the potential results, which is exactly what the HRWC report does. As todd has pointed out, the report does outline what needs to be done before a decision can be made, but it also clearly states that the intention of the HRWC is “building community support for removal of Argo Dam in Ann Arbor on the Huron River.” They have put promotion of the project before researching the effects.

    Steve, I get the feeling that you are not free to comment openly on this issue, but could you let us know what flood data and ecological surveys you are using once the process officially starts? FAA will need some lead time to build that Ark.
       —Scott TenBrink    Dec. 21 '05 - 03:14AM    #
  53. I’m as free as can be to comment on it, Scott. I simply don’t have much to comment on yet. These various reports are what they are.

    Beyond data and surveys, though, I’ll say that my own long-term vision for the river is one where (heat-, sediment-, trash-, and toxic-polluted) stormwater doesn’t reach the river directly and sewage doesn’t get near it. Contact with the water won’t entail a health threat. It’ll flood sometimes in the spring, because that’s what happens to rivers in Michigan when the snow melts and it rains a lot.

    Most likely it’s going to be a river until the next ice age, so we might as well get used to the idea.
       —Steve Bean    Dec. 21 '05 - 04:15AM    #
  54. Dale:

    I suspect that the only reason why rowers outnumber other users is the near total lack of current on this part of the river. If the popularity of the upper stretches of the Huron is any guide (at least two canoe rental facilites between Portage and Delhi), removing the dam and freeing up current would likely lead to a significant increase in the usage of the river between Delhi and the city.

    This isn’t to say that the interests of the rowers currently using the river shouldn’t be given due consideration. But if we’re going by the numbers here, I think its realistic to say that dam removal will lead to increased enjoyment of the waterway by a greater number of residents. Greatest good for the greatest number… or something like that.

       —Daniel Adams    Dec. 21 '05 - 04:57AM    #
  55. In northern lower Michigan, for at least some dams, there is a dam “permit renewal” process, whereby dams which have existed for decades, or even a century, have to be systematically justified in order to be allowed to remain in place.

    My late father was involved in that process some years ago.

    What puzzled me at the time was the involvement of archeologists. Even if a dam had been in place for a hundred years or more, they always took the position that its continued existence damaged archeological resources. How could that be?
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Dec. 21 '05 - 02:18PM    #
  56. Well, since everyone is pretty interested in this stuff, I’ve asked my dad to dig up work he’s done on dam removal.

    I’ll post what he finds.
       —todd    Dec. 21 '05 - 03:18PM    #
  57. I’d never thought I’d be in the position of defending the Ann Arbor News on news judgment, but if dam removal is on the agenda of the Environmental Commission even just for discussion purposes, and it’s on the list of issues the HRWC and the DNR are considering (and if doing so would cause a huge uproar in the rowing community, as it clearly does) then it’s a story. I don’t see that as “stirring the pot,” I see it as the responsibility of the media—to report on issues that are starting to surface that affect the entire community. The alternative is to leave it to the insiders, politicos, and experts to discuss behind close doors and keep the general public in the dark. Is that what we want?

    Now, this isn’t a judgment on whether the article had sufficient facts and research—given it was in the News, I’ll easily grant it didn’t.
       —Michael Betzold    Dec. 21 '05 - 07:44PM    #
  58. Dan,

    If people are cooing “oooh, white water!” over the idea of dam removal, I don’t know how much canoeists would benefit. At the canoe liveries I frequent (mostly Skip’s, in the metropark), there are stern warnings, “Shooting the rapids [just past the pull-out] will result in forfeiture of security deposit!” (Sure, some people are cool enough to own their own canoes…)

    I’ll sign on to Steve’s proto-vision for the river…
       —Murph.    Dec. 21 '05 - 07:55PM    #
  59. I admit I’m not an expert, but I would be kind of surprised if the Huron really was “white water” without the dams. I imagine the current would be faster than it is now, but it seems unlikely that it would be any sort of real white water situation for most of its length (outside of high snowmelt/rain times). Interestingly, the only place I’ve been white water rafting is in Maine and it is very common there (and elsewhere) to have the white water rafting controlled as a “partnership” between by the rafting companies and the dam operators who literally turn the river on for a few hours to give people a ride and then turn it off once the trip is done. Without that backup of water to release, most of these rivers would be far less dramatically active. For an example see the rafting schedule for the Dead River, which will be turned on 12 times in 2006 for that great, authentic, river-rafting experience.

    I also agree with Steve Bean’s long-term vision. Sounds lovely. Especially since I drink a lot of this water …
       —Juliew    Dec. 21 '05 - 08:50PM    #
  60. I think “rapids” would be more accurate than “white water”. A fun run for canoists and maybe a few spots for kayakers to play in. We shall see … maybe … someday.
       —Steve Bean    Dec. 22 '05 - 03:18AM    #
  61. In regards to concerns over whether removal of Argo Dam will lead to increased chance of flooding, Argo Dam was not built as a flood-control structure and, as such, does not provide any flood control. The City of Ann Arbor is required by law to operate the dam as run-of-the-river, which means the gates adjust with variable stream flow.

    The literature is extensive and growing for case studies on dam removals in this country. Start with Dam Removal Success Stories: Restoring Rivers through Selective Removal of Dams that Don’t Make Sense, Dec 1999 from American Rivers and Trout Unlimited. Also the HRWC has a library of dam-related materials including books, reports, scientific papers, and so on that can be viewed in person at the office on N. Main St in the NEW Center. Call 734-769-5123 to make an appointment to view the materials.
       —Elizabeth Riggs    Jan. 5 '06 - 07:35PM    #
  62. In regards to concerns over whether removal of Argo Dam will lead to increased chance of flooding, Argo Dam was not built as a flood-control structure and, as such, does not provide any flood control.

    Elizabeth Riggs, while I’d like to trust your expertise with regards to all things water, the former part of your statement is not necessarily supported by the latter.

    I have voiced my concerns in previous comments here. If any of the dam-related materials at the NEW Center directly addresses these concerns – specifically what are the flood possibilities post dam removal after 85+ years of environmental changes where water and grade conditions are similar to the Huron at Argo – please let me know and I’ll gladly drop by…
       —FAA    Jan. 5 '06 - 09:16PM    #
  63. In addition to FAA’s request, I think it would be very helpful to see any info on extended unobstructed river length and improved connectedness in relation to ecological improvement. In other words, how does the fact that there is another dam not far upstream impact the anticipated benefits of removal? Murph notes in post 20 that the USGS lists the impact of the dam as very high, but I’d like to know how the proximity of other dam impacts this ranking.
    I’m assuming that the Barton dam would be much more difficult to remove as it contributes to the city water supply.
    Also, if the USACE hazard rating is high for Argo, wouldn’t that high rating just be transferred to the next dam upstream upon the removal of Argo dam, or does the distance from the city (in this case slightly increased) factor beneficially into the hazard calculation?
       —Scott TenBrink    Jan. 6 '06 - 02:55AM    #