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Posted on Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 5:51 a.m.

DTE Energy offering to pay for whitewater features included in Argo Dam headrace project

By Ryan J. Stanton

DTE Energy is offering to pick up the tab for whitewater features planned as part of the city of Ann Arbor's reconstruction of the Argo Dam headrace.

The only catch, officials say, is the city must agree to hold off on adding the whitewater features in the Huron River until after DTE completes environmental remediation on its nearby property, likely in 2012, as required by Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

By having DTE pay for the whitewater features, the city is expected to save $163,636, according to Colin Smith, the city's parks and recreation manager.

The city's Park Advisory Commission is now recommending using about $85,000 of those savings to construct an improved entrance to the headrace, a 1,500-foot channel that runs parallel to the Huron River and allows canoeists and kayakers to bypass Argo Dam.


Ann Arbor officials are considering improvements to the Argo Dam headrace entrance, shown here earlier this summer. The channel was drained in preparation for major reconstruction work.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"The entrance to the Argo headrace is unattractive and functions poorly and interest has been expressed in improving it," reads the resolution from PAC.

The Ann Arbor City Council now must decide if it wants to go along with PAC's recommended plan and amend the city's contract with Livonia-based TSP Environmental, the firm hired last year to complete the $1.17 million headrace reconstruction project.

The council is expected to take up the issue next month.

Currently the entrance to the Argo headrace is through a narrow concrete culvert with low head clearance. The option the city is considering involves removing the top of the culvert, adding grouted limestone to widen the approach, constructing new concrete abutments and installing an "arched prefabricated steel clear span bridge" with a concrete deck.

City officials note the cost of making those improvements will be more than offset by the savings realized from DTE’s commitment to pay for the whitewater features.

DTE officials could not be reached for comment.

According to city officials, DTE recently performed state-required sediment sampling in the area of the proposed whitewater features. The area is adjacent to DTE's property on the south side of the Huron River, between Allen Creek Drain and the Broadway Bridge.

City officials said the investigation revealed a need for remediation, and that led DTE to commit to funding the whitewater features once remediation is done.

"There are two features that will be installed in the main channel of the river, so it didn't make sense to install them now if DTE needed to remediate in that area," said Molly Wade, the city's water treatment services manager.

"We hope we're looking at potentially 2012 to be able to install those whitewater features," she added. "There's no problem with doing this at a later date."

The city already has begun preliminary site work for the reconstruction of the Argo headrace, following orders from the DEQ to address concerns about the stability of the earthen embankment that separates the headrace from the main river channel.

The Border-to-Border trail along the embankment was closed recently and detour signs are posted to redirect bicyclists and pedestrians around the construction.

Wade said the city hopes to receive permits from the state this week to begin the major reconstruction work, including moving earth.

"We're excited to get moving," she said. "Things will start to happen very quickly and we hope to be substantially complete by the time winter hits, so probably by early December."

The overall project, as approved by the City Council, calls for removing the canoe portage at the end of the headrace. Also being added are a series of drop pools through the headrace, making it easier for novice canoeists and kayakers to get from Argo to points east.


The conceptual design for the reconstruction of the Argo Dam headrace approved by the Ann Arbor City Council last year, including whitewater features.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.



Fri, Sep 2, 2011 : 9:01 p.m.

Here's a video about another white water park, though I believe much more extensive than what's planned in Ann Arbor: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> When the Argo head race project is complete, inexperienced paddlers (like me) will be able to paddle from Argo pond to Gallup pond with no portage, and it will be easy to entirely avoid the white water features.

Jim Osborn

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 4:12 a.m.

Ahh, Someone could get hurt on the whitewater, we can't have that, can we? This is the same city that has spend money to keep people from using the slide at the end of the headrace to slide down into the Huron River at the end of the portage site. They placed bars across this once wonderful slide. Can't the city make up its mind? This city council just likes to waste taxpayers money.

Silly Sally

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 4:03 a.m.

Hmm. Getting rid of a fun to go under &quot;hazzard&quot; and then adding white water hazzards. If people can't navigate the present narrow area under the bridge, how will they navigate the whitewater? I enjoy going thru the narrow opening under the bridge, and know that the city has better things to do with $85k. For starters, the parks could be mowed once every one to two weeks. And those potholes in the roads...

Mike D.

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 2:24 a.m.

What on earth is a white water feature? Is this a term that most people understand? I've white-water rafted, but I've never heard of a white water feature. And given the utter and complete lack of explanation in this story, I must surmise that Mr. Stanton hasn't, either.


Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 1:53 a.m.

The changes to the head race will allow canoeing down the river without a portage, certainly an improvement. The white water features will be on the main part of the river, and allow kayakers to paddle above the features and go down them repeatedly. But paddlers who are just traveling down the river will be able to avoid the features. The head race will have a series of pools that paddlers gently travel down. And strong paddlers (and fish, perhaps) will be able to paddle up the headrace to Argo pond.

Let me be Frank

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 12:56 a.m.

I wonder if the Citycontinues to finance the operations and maintenance of Argo Dam from the Water Supply fund -- your water bills? Is the Water Supply fund (water bills) also being tapped for the capital costs?

Urban Sombrero

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 11:08 p.m.

I'm skeptical. Something for nothing just sounds way too good to be true. There has to be a catch. DTE is just not that altruistic. No matter what they want you (and I) to think.


Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 6:14 a.m.

It's not something for nothing: DTE MUST do the work to repair their toxic chemical containment. Therefore, rather than wait until the new canoeing / kayaking features are complete and then have to tear it down and RE-DO, DTE is asking A2 to wait and let them do the work (once and for all) after their repair work is complete. Environmentalists should approve: that company is accepting its responsibility AND facilitating something for the public to enjoy.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 7:33 p.m.

How about a story on the MGP (manufactured gas plant) contamination that has yet to be cleaned up? What, its only been 60 or 70 years with no cleanup and &quot;nasties&quot; remain.


Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 6:03 a.m.

There was a U of M professor who provided a detailed account of that toxic impoundment some time ago. The toxic impoundment is, apparently, DTE's permanent responsibility. Some of the containment elements have deteriorated and that's why the repairs have been ordered by the state.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 4:59 p.m.

Hey Ryan! Is there somewhere that we can look at a larger image (at least those of us whose eyes cannot discern the writing on the drawing in the article ;^) )? A link would be appreciated.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 4:06 p.m.

So, help me understand this....DTE is going to pay for the whitewater feature and instead of using the money for the feature good ol' A2 thought up some pet project (replace a perfectly fine spillway) that they are going to spend half of the money on. UNBELIEVABLE!!!


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 3:44 p.m.

Hello, Thank you for this opportunity in offering up a most wonderful idea! May I suggest building on the back waters of the Huron a &quot;Whitewater Rafting Run&quot;. Historicaly these ponds on rivers were used as Mill Ponds (I'm not certain if the Huron back waters in Ann Arbor were used as such.) May I further suggest that you use the City of South Bend, Indiana as an excellent reference for a most successful project! Note: A portage can be made on the opposit side of the river and funding would be available from the Department of Natural Resources. GO FOR IT! Your friend, Dawn

5c0++ H4d13y

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 3:39 p.m.

Maybe DTE could just pick up all the telephone poles they leave scattered across the city. Who let's them do that?

Stephen Landes

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 3:29 p.m.

We have agreed to do the head race revisions to include the white water features -- no sense in going back to that discussion again regardless of your position on the issue. DTE has now determined that some of their remediation efforts will be done within the new white water feature area. The sensible thing to do is complete the remediation before completing the construction of the white water features. That DTE is compensating Ann Arbor for having to wait to complete the work is good for Ann Arbor and good for DTE. This is called a win-win; something an awful lot of people commenting on this article seem to know little about.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 4:08 p.m.

The dissatisfaction is not with receiving money from DTE or having to wait another year to use the new feature. The dissatifactions comes from using the savings to replace a fully functional entrance bridge (not included in the original project) while other parks projects/priorities lack the funds to move forward. The entrance bridge has no bearing on the white water features and is not that difficult to navigate through.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 2:45 p.m.

I'm glad to see the new focus on improving this beautiful recreational area around the dam area. (vs. the ill-conceived plan to remove the dam and transform the area to an invasive-choked marshy area) The Argo Pond and Bandemer area, all the way up to Barton Dam is a beautiful route for canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and hiking. The area downriver from the Argo Dam isn't as nice and can be improved a lot. The DTE project to clean up their site is a start.

Marilyn Wilkie

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 1:55 p.m.

How about fixing every bit of the crumbling infrastructure, streets, water issues, fund the city police and fire departments for citizen safety and THEN decide if there is money left over for all of the little niceties? Just a thought.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 2:04 p.m.

As soon as a majority of the voters repeal the voter-approved parks millage and replace it with a general fund millage, I'm sure the city will get right on that.

Will Warner

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 1:46 p.m.

I'm all for the whitewater features, whatever they are. But what are they? From the picture it appears that the route around the dam will include four lakes separated by three narrow areas that I presume will be fast water. Is that about right? On a side note, if I am remembering correctly, this route will run past the site of Ann Arbor's hobo jungle. It might be fun to turn that into a camp ground for people making a multi-day journey on the river.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 6:03 p.m.

Will, I'm not clear on that point either. I seem to remember someone saying you would paddle up into it and move around in it, but I could have that totally wrong. I don't see any mention of a place to enter the water upstream of the upper whitewater from the B2B trail on the map.

Will Warner

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 5:09 p.m.

Thanks, foo, but how will canoes get to the rapids upstream of the confluence of the river and mill race?


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 2:10 p.m.

The 2 whitewater features are in the lower right. The easier one is downstream of where the mill race enters the main river bed. The harder one is upstream of where the millrace enters the main river bed. The 8? pools in the millrace are seperated by small drops. They are supposed to be for all paddlers, not whitewater.

Trevor Staples

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

Alternate headline for this article: &quot;City saves bundle on Argo Dam, spends it on Argo Dam.&quot;


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

The drawing is a little small, but the ped/bike path is there, and labeled as such on the drawing. No need for complaints there. And instead of taking the Glass-Half-Empty stance that the whitewater race is a disincentive for the "less-skilled," why not look at it as a great incentive, and an excellent venue, for acquiring the necessary paddling skills? Nothing wrong with that. Myself, I look forward to playing in those rapids as often as I can!

Wolf's Bane

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 1:19 p.m.

DTE completes environmental remediation and the city gets a white water feature on the Huron River? My goodness that is great! However, I can't wait for City Counsel to mess this one up.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 1:17 p.m.

The city has allocated and committed the funds to rebuild the millrace into a series of cascading ponds and add a whitewater feature. If you look at the map, the chief whitewater feature is upstream of where the millrace portage will enter. The city had planned to pay for that. DTE recently determined it would have to tear out that whitewater feature immediately after it was put it to do its state-mandated remediation and then restore it. Therefore, DTE is quite sensibly offering that the city not waste it's money and let DTE do it for the first time after the remediation. This frees up $163k, as the article says, back to the Parks &amp; Rec budget. Those funds could be used for a variety of things. The city is currently considering replacing the entrance to the mill race (which has a low bridge and narrow opening) with a wider opening and higher bridge. That would cost $85k and make entering the millrace much more pleasant. The bicycle/pedestrian connection to Argo would be maintained, as explained in the article, not broken as claimed by a previous commenter. One could certainly consider spending it on other meritorious Parks and Rec activities. One might suspect that it makes sense to complete this project all at once, but that could certainly be debated. However, the Bandemer / Barton connection is estimated at $2 million (which is why it keeps getting delayed, I suspect), so this would only cover up to 8% of that cost.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 3:55 p.m.

The entrance enhancement described is a &quot;nice to have&quot; element, whereas the missing border to border connections require park users to either break the law and cross the railroad tracks or cross four lanes of traffic on N. Main St. (Bandemer to Barton). The $2 million hurdle will never be acheived if funds are not being set aside on an annual basis or being diverted to other priorities like upgrading golf courses, etc.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 12:36 p.m.

We haven't even struck a deal with DTE yet and we have already dreamed up new ways to spend those savings? Why am I not surprised. There are other incomplete sections of the border to border trail which could use that money, such as connecting Bandemer with Barton park.

Mr Blue

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 12:33 p.m.

Ann Arbor Dot Com. Home of the whiners.

Homeland Conspiracy

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 12:30 p.m.

When DTE says &quot;they&quot; will pay are anything...then that means &quot;we&quot; are the ones that are really paying for it. I'll be looking for a hike in my bill to pay for this.

that's a tuffy

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 12:52 p.m.

I agree, we have no choice but to deal with DTE. They should only use their (sales ) for producing energy. It seems they should buy back alternative energy sources. K, and HC make good points.

Silly Sally

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 11:23 a.m.

When renting a canoe from the Argo Canoe Livery, part of the charm was going under the cement bridge. Why spend money to replace it? Furthermore, it removes a pedestrian and bicycle pathway. Is the city (and its silly mayor) gong to replace it at even greater cost? If this head-race is turned into white water, will it be easy for all to travel on, or will it make it impossible for the less skilled to travel, eliminating travel from upriver of Argo dam to Gallup Park? Lastly, why incur more costs that will raise the cost of renting a canoe, or raise the parks and rec expenses? Until recently, it was only $10 to rent a canoe for the Argo to Gallup trip. Then an expensive new livery was built, and now this proposal.

Terrin Bell

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 12:32 p.m.

Old timer3: You failed to pay attention to his post. He wasn't complaining about paying. He was complaining about paying more for needless so called improvements. With all that said, I enjoy going under the current headway, but can see how some might find it a challenge. It seems like the City is being ripped off for how much it is paying to make the improvement. Cement is cheap, and not much would be needed.

Mr Blue

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 12:32 p.m.

It's called improving for your public infrastructure for future generations. Like painting your house or upgrading your furnace. But some people would prefer not to take care of these things now when it's cheaper to do so and would let things rot before taking any action. Oh, if you haven't noticed many of us are now figuring out that things cost more, even renting a canoe.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 12:02 p.m.

If you want to play you should pay.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 11:07 a.m.

Paying for the Argo dam improvements is great for DTE's image but doesn't do much for the environment and our dependence on coal, oil, gas, and nuclear. Better news would be if DTE bought back all of the energy produced by alternative energy sources rather than only the amount of energy the home energy home owners with windmills and solar displays normally consume in a year. The current policy discourages the growth of alternative energy production in Michigan. We need legislation that requires the energy monopolies to buy all alternative alternative energy produced regardless of the source. Ideally energy consumers will earn a much greater portion of their revenue from energy transport and administration rather than production.

Mr Blue

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 6:45 p.m.

If you want to tell DTE how best to use their massive profits, tell your legislator to change the laws and require them to employ some Michiganders to r&amp;d and manufacture solar, wind and biofuel technologies. If we don't change how we look at energy use in the future, not only will China eat our lunch, we'll be paying them to make it for us.

Mr Blue

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 1:01 p.m.

There's nothing wrong with coal, oil, gas and nuclear&quot; other than pollution, health risks and diminishing supplies. Oil and gas that is exponentially increasing in cost due to the difficulty of getting it out of the earth. Have you already forgotten the BP oil leak that continues to poison the Gulf of Mexico? Coal? How're ya doing with those deadly mining accidents? Black lung disease anyone? Increased health care costs for miners resulting in higher costs for everyone? Are you going to volunteer to bury nuclear waste in your backyard? Don't forget that the vast majority of oil in the world is in countries that don't like us. Getting off oil and going to alternatives is like telling them to kiss off. Want more expensive wars over oil? I don't. DTE's job is to make a profit for their shareholders and pay their CEO many millions, not produce affordable energy.

Silly Sally

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 11:28 a.m.

There is nothing wrong with &quot;coal, oil, gas, and nuclear&quot; power. It is DTE's job to make energy affordable. If Kronoberger wants to use more expensive sources, let him pay for them, but don't force others to do so. DTE is not an energy consumer, but a producer and distributor. If Kronoberger wants alt energy, why not advocate that the dam produce energy once again?

Chip Reed

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 11:05 a.m.

I can imagine that there are stupider things to spend $85,000 on than replacing a little bridge that is structurally sound. Maybe the people that made the West Park sculptures and the designer of the city hall fountain can put their heads together to come up with something that really captures the spirit of our fair city.