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City Council: Argo Dam

19. October 2009 • Juliew
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City Council: Monday, October 19 at 7:00 pm.
Ann Arbor City HallAgenda


  • Resolutions “pertaining to Argo Dam” (added late)
  • Resolution to authorize city to contract for repairs on E. Stadium Bridge
  • Resolution to approve Neighborhood Stabilization Funds
  • Resolution appointing Georgetown Mall Citizens Committee
  • Resolution approving Dominicks rezoning from R4C to PUD

  1. The resolution regarding Argo Dam is as follows:

    Whereas, The City of Ann Arbor has for years owned and maintained several dams along the Huron River;

    Whereas, Studies of the Huron River have raised the question of the need to manage the river and each of the impoundments created by these dams;

    Whereas, The Argo Dam and Argo Pond have recently become the focal point for considerable discussion about the “pros and cons” of keeping the Argo Dam in place;

    Whereas, The Ann Arbor community enjoys many recreational opportunities and environmental attributes created by the existence of Argo Pond within the Huron River system;

    Whereas, The Argo Dam includes several structural features, including the “headrace embankment”, which has drawn the concern of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) for safety reasons related to the adequacy of toe-drains which are designed to drain seepage from the headrace;

    Whereas, Repairs to the headrace could be completed for a small fraction of the cost of removing the entire dam; and

    Whereas, the best interests of the Ann Arbor community will be served by preserving the Argo Dam and all the amenities associated with the dam,

    RESOLVED, The Ann Arbor City Council declares its intent to maintain the Argo Dam and Argo Pond and directs the City Administrator to develop specific strategies to mitigate any infrastructure deficiencies with the headrace embankment to satisfy the MDEQ’s requirements, and to take actions in support of this declared intent, including identifying a timetable and necessary funding sources to support the work.

    Sponsored by: Councilmembers Marcia Higgins, Stephen Rapundalo, Sandi Smith

       —Juliew    Oct. 19 '09 - 05:07AM    #
  2. Hey, what’s the Dominicks rezoning?

       —just a homeowner    Oct. 19 '09 - 05:25AM    #
  3. Apparently there’s nothing structurally wrong with the concrete & steel portion of Argo Dam, which is what some people thought. The concern has to do with needed repair & maintenance of the banks along the millrace/headrace adjacent to the dam. Just shut off the water flow to the millrace and that will handle the immediate problem; then proceed with fixes and/or portage re-routing. The dam can go on for a number of years/decades yet before wear & tear will require its dismantling.

       —yet another    Oct. 19 '09 - 09:21PM    #
  4. There are now 11 people signed up to speak on Argo Dam. This could be a long meeting.

    Last I saw, the Dominicks project was billed as a long-term potential project that the owners brought forward in case they decide down the road to make changes. The general idea is in this .pdf . I do find it odd that there is a PUD without actually having a specific project in mind, but Dominick’s R4C zoning may no longer be quite right so I can see the point. The PUD seems so generic that I wonder how Council can actually vote on it. Seems sort of like “at some point we want to make changes and we will make them in a good way so give us authority to do so.” Chances are people will like the changes, but it is sort of an interesting take on the PUD process. I also wonder if changing the zoning will allow Dominicks to be open past 10:00pm?

       —Juliew    Oct. 20 '09 - 12:45AM    #
  5. yet another,

    According to the city reports, Argo Dam costs about $40,000 in annual maintenance and insurance, and this will rise to over $45,000/year in less than 10 years. The city also expects to have to spend $20,000/year removing aquatic plants that grow in the pond. More substantially, in 2012 the dam becomes due for a major overhaul that will cost about $250,000.

    There are good financial reasons to consider taking the dam out now, while there are state and federal funds that might help.

    More significantly, the dam is also due for major overhaul in 2012. This is expected to cost about $250,000.

       —George Hammond    Oct. 20 '09 - 06:50AM    #
  6. The procedural confusion, and lack of action, last night on Argo Dam shows that no one was orchestrating events behind the scenes. 8-)

       —David Cahill    Oct. 20 '09 - 04:58PM    #
  7. George,

    In the long run, I’m not opposed to dismantling Argo dam and turning that portion of the river into a whitewater stretch. In no way would I support constructing a new dam in the future to replace the current model, as has been the practice for some 150 years or so.

    It’s just that we don’t need to do the teardown this minute, so to speak. We can put that off for a while, maybe until 2012 or some number of years later. For now, the matter can be resolved by shutting off water flow through the millrace. Meanwhile, the city can begin a long-term, open process to plan the finances for removal, as well as to decide how the “new” parkland will be used and whether any portion of it should be developed.

    I know there’s costs for maintaining Argo in its current state, and your figures indicate the total is a bit higher than I’d assumed. In comparison, what would it cost the city to completely remove the dam?

       —yet another    Oct. 20 '09 - 09:32PM    #
  8. David,

    See this is what happens when you can’t email during council meetings. Hope you people are happy now…lol.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Oct. 21 '09 - 01:48AM    #
  9. With help from yesterday’s Mich. Daily, this is a start to answering my question on dam removal costs:

    Joe O’Neal, owner of O’Neal Construction Company, whose company oversaw the construction of Argo Dam, estimated that removing the dam will cost $1 million in addition to $750,000 to $1 million to train the river to flow a different course.

    We’re talking $2 million in costs so far. I don’t know if Joe’s figures take this into account:

    Land contamination resulting from a coal gasification plant which previously operated on the MichCon site just downstream of Argo Dam is of great concern to the Planning Department and the State of Michigan, which wants the land to be sealed. The removal of Argo Dam could change the flood plain, causing problems with flooding on the site and possibly washing contaminants into the river, although the exact effect is unknown at this time.

    Again, I’ll support the eventual removal of Argo Dam and other dams along the Huron as well. Still, we have time yet to figure out how to do it best and how to pay for it. The city should turn off water flow through the millrace and get its finger off the panic button.

       —yet another    Oct. 21 '09 - 09:03PM    #
  10. Almost every unbiased, informed report I have read has suggested that whether it’s dam in or dam out it will end up costing similar amounts. It’s more a matter of when A2 wants to pay. Personally, I think conservative suburban values will win out, safeguarding a recreation area for the small cadre of rowers in expensive boats. Something like ‘health of the river’ arguments almost always lose in these parts. We like to pretend we’re eco-progressive but when push comes to shove the natural landscape takes the hit.

       —BB9    Oct. 21 '09 - 09:16PM    #
  11. BB9, I think the situation would be different if we were talking about a dam in a rural area, instead of one in an urban area with lots of users. Apparently thousands of people use the present Argo Pond/millrace/embankment. Their views matter.

       —David Cahill    Oct. 22 '09 - 12:52AM    #
  12. YA, after you remove all the dams, where do you propose the city get its water supply?

    BB9, The cost analysis I have seen make the costs of removing the dam equal to keeping it only if you sell the exposed land. If you keep it as a park then the cost of removing the dam is higher. Selling the land is worth discussing, but let’s be careful we do not argue to remove the dam expecting a park and then find our access to the river blocked by a new row of high rise uglies.

    Finally the idea of “free the river” is a nice environmental concept but a generator at the dam would save a thousand tons of CO2 per year. Which is better for the environment?

       —Glenn Thompson    Oct. 22 '09 - 01:30AM    #
  13. Wow! A tidbit of wisdom from Ann Arbor’s most controversial citizen – Mr. Glenn Thompson.

       —Annette Gilbert    Oct. 22 '09 - 01:35AM    #
  14. YA, after you remove all the dams, where do you propose the city get its water supply?

    Yes, a correction is in order. The Barton Dam should remain in place for a good while so that we locals can still drink from the pond (or at least until the Gelman dioxin plume arrives). I wasn’t clear earlier when writing “… other dams” and didn’t intend to mean all dams along the river. Likewise, “eventual removal” can mean a considerable variance in time frame depending upon local circumstances for a particular dam along the Huron.

       —yet another    Oct. 22 '09 - 02:44AM    #
  15. Glenn Thompson is not only the self-appointed Farmers Market Czar, he apparently seems to know how the river flows! Well Gol Dang!!

       —fuzzbollah    Oct. 22 '09 - 08:01AM    #
  16. Annette and fuzzbollah, despite your disagreement with Thompson, please try to avoid personal jabs.

       —Matt Hampel    Oct. 22 '09 - 08:06AM    #
  17. Has the concept of selling the land as a cost alternative been seriously explored?

       —Annette Gilbert    Nov. 3 '09 - 05:15AM    #
  18. actually all the costs estimates i’ve seen have the numbers coming out fairly equal without land sale… the annual maintenance fees are said to fall between $20K and $50K. over time the costs converge.

    and david, your comments about 1000s using the pond is misleading. thousands will still be able to use the river in much the same way they have. kayakers and canoers will still be there. so will people who fish. what will change is the rowers, who seem to view the pond is their personal recreation field. their inconvenience just isn’t a compelling enough reason for me. after all, the women rowers moved out to belleville lake a long time ago. the health of the river should come first. the dam is an artificial creation that has been called the 2nd most river changing dam in michigan. and there hasn’t been one expert who thinks it can generate enough energy to warrant its operation.

       —BB9    Nov. 6 '09 - 01:22AM    #