Ann Arbor City Council delays decision on Argo Dam's fate
The Ann Arbor City Council - missing four of its 11 members - held off tonight on voting on a resolution to repair Argo Dam and save Argo Pond.
Nonetheless, several citizens took to the podium at the start of the meeting to give their input on the issue that's divided the community into two sides - "dam-in" and "dam-out." - in recent months
"It's time to end this divisive debate," said Tony Iannone, president of the Huron Rowing Association, a major proponent of keeping the dam intact to preserve the rowing activities that occur at Argo Pond.
There was a consensus from both sides tonight that the Argo Dam issue has dragged on far too long. The city has been aware of the state's concerns with the condition of Argo Dam for the last nine years, but has not yet addressed them all.
Council Member Stephen Rapundalo, D-2nd Ward, one of the three sponsors of tonight's legislation, said the resolution was proposed in an attempt to be proactive about addressing the infrastructure needs of the dam. He noted the city is still in dispute with the state Department of Environmental Quality over the issue.
City Attorney Stephen Postema said the city is contesting the DEQ's recent order to take action on Argo Dam. The DEQ gave the city a range of deadlines to either repair or remove the dam altogether to address safety concerns.
"It's a contested matter that's in an administrative hearing up in Lansing. It is not a court case," Postema said, adding that there's no timeline for when the matter will be settled.
Absent from tonight's meeting were Mayor John Hieftje and council members Marcia Higgins, Margie Teall and Tony Derezinski.
Council Member Leigh Greden, D-3rd Ward, served as acting mayor. He spoke just before the council voted 7-0 to table the Argo Dam resolution.
Greden said he thinks the late addition of the issue to the agenda Friday was mishandled by its sponsors.
"We dragged a lot of people out here tonight for this motion. It's now 9:35 p.m. and they've sat through this meeting for two and a half hours," he said. "I don't think we should keep dragging the public back here over and over again."
Council members discussed postponing the issue until Dec. 7, but ultimately decided to table the issue indefinitely until a clear resolution could be drafted.
Council Member Carsten Hohnke, D-5th Ward, said tabling the resolution was the right choice.
"I think it's pretty clear that this resolution came extremely late in the process. Many of us didn't even know it was around until Saturday," he said, adding it also didn't communicate a clear message.
Council members said they fielded hundreds of e-mails from the public over the weekend about Argo Dam with various concerns. Many of those concerns were heard during the public comment period of tonight's meeting.
"It's time. Enough is enough," said Susan Washabaugh, a teacher at Pioneer High School, who told city officials it was time for swift action to make the necessary repairs to the dam.
Jeff DeBoer, president of the Pioneer Rowing Club, said there's more than enough information to make a reasoned judgment to save the dam. He said removing Argo Dam would be an "extreme and irresponsible action."
Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council and a member of Friends Of Restoring The Huron, urged the council to remove the dam and restore the river. She presented documentation showing the removal would open up six miles of free-flowing river and provide 20 acres of floodplain to store water and prevent downstream flooding, while also filtering out pollutants.
Rubin also told city officials the restoration would improve the number and diversity of fish and aquatic habitat by lowering water temperatures, improving oxygen levels in the water, and decreasing evaporation loss.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529.