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Posted on Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 4:41 p.m.

Ann Arbor considering options for responding to DEQ order to fix Argo Dam problems

By Ryan J. Stanton


Ann Arbor officials are working to respond to an order from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that calls the condition of Argo Dam a significant public risk.

The DEQ sent a certified letter to City Administrator Roger Fraser, demanding the city take action by certain deadlines to address concerns about the city-owned dam on the Huron River north of downtown Ann Arbor.

"Our charge is to ensure the safety of dams," said Byron Lane, chief of the DEQ's Dam Safety Program in Lansing. "It's of enough concern that we felt it was time we issue the order to make sure it gets done in a timely fashion."

  • I believe the dam should be removed.
  • I think the dam should be preserved and repaired.

The DEQ's letter to the city is the latest chapter in a more than year-long contentious debate over the fate of the Argo Dam. Those who advocate for its removal say the dam is costly to maintain and poses environmental hazards, while those who support keeping it tout its benefits to recreational activity on the Huron River.

The city now has until Nov. 1 to completely shut off the flow from Argo Dam's impoundment to the headrace, a 1,500-foot stretch of water that canoeists and kayakers use to bypass Argo Dam. The DEQ wants the headrace dewatered so the city can address lingering concerns with the embankment that separates it from the Huron River.

dam1.jpgDEQ officials fear a breach of the embankment could send a rush of water to the surrounding area and endanger anything in its path.

"This is a pretty popular stretch of stream," Lane said. "There's canoeing, there's parks right along there, so if you have a surge of water come through, and you have a wall of water coming down there, that would pose a danger to anyone who's in that area and any property."

City staff is preparing a series of options that will be presented to the Ann Arbor City Council at 5:45 p.m. Sept. 8. The working session at city hall will take place in advance of the regularly scheduled council meeting at 7 p.m.

"It seems the state wants an answer on the embankment," said City Councilman Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, who is in favor of preserving Argo Dam. "What they're asking us is to come back with a plan now."

The official order from the DEQ states the headrace is to remain dewatered until problems with the embankment have been corrected or the dam has been removed. The agency also is mandating the city continue monitoring seepage emanating from the embankment at least monthly.

"We want them to address the deficiencies with the dam, and it's up to them how they want to do it," Lane said. "It may mean repairing the toe drains and removing all the trees, or they can remove the dam. In our mind, it's their call."

The DEQ is asking the city to complete an evaluation of its options to address the deficiencies by April 30, 2010. If the city decides to keep the dam in place, it has until Dec. 31, 2010, to correct the embankment problems. If the city decides to remove the dam, it must do so by Dec. 31, 2012.

The DEQ also has set a deadline of Feb. 1, 2011, for the city to complete engineering designs for the removal if it goes that route.

The Argo Dam, built in 1920 and last renovated in 1972, is regulated by the state Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act of 1994. The DEQ says the dam is classified as a "high hazard potential dam," which means its failure could cause serious damage to surrounding homes, buildings, public utilities, highways and railroads, and potentially endanger human lives.

In a dam safety inspection report from Dec. 19, 2001, prepared by the DEQ's Land and Water Management Division, the headrace embankment was listed in "poor condition" due to seepage of water through the earthen embankment and extensive growth of trees and brush along the embankment. The city was asked to remove overhanging and dead trees by July 31, 2002, clean the dam's toe drains and monitor the seepage.

In another inspection dated Sept. 30, 2004, the condition of the embankment was found to have worsened. The city was directed to immediately repair the toe drains and remove some trees. An inspection dated Sept. 12, 2007, says the embankment still was in poor condition.

The DEQ claims the city still hasn't addressed the problems.

Anglin thinks it's feasible - though it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars - to drain the headrace, make improvements, and then restore the water flow. Anglin said he prefers that solution because it would keep Argo Dam in operation and keep Argo Pond open for canoeists and kayakers.

About 18,000 canoe and kayal rentals are made annually at the Argo Pond location, representing about half of rentals at the city's two livery locations. Some city officials think canoe and kayak rentals would actually go up if the dam is removed because many people would prefer a riverine trip to a pond paddle.

The city's Parks Advisory Commission recently voted 5-4 to recommend keeping the dam in place, but Chairman Scott Rosencrans says it should close. While the dam once served as a source of generating hydroelectric power, he points out its only purpose today is recreational activity.

"I believe that there are a lot of benefits involved with the removal of Argo Dam," Rosencrans said. "But my contention is we should only do that if we can facilitate the rowing community at other impoundments."

Rosencrans thinks rowers can be accommodated at other locations, including Gallup Park. And with Argo Dam closed, the city could save on maintenance costs and realize some potential environmental benefits.

The city operates two canoe and kayak liveries in the city - the one at Argo Pond and the one in Gallup Park. Rosencrans said the city makes about $400,000 a year in revenue at the two locations, generating a $65,000 net surplus after factoring in costs.

Photo captions: Crew teams practice Thursday afternoon on Argo Pond just above the Argo Dam on the Huron River, north of downtown Ann Arbor. Water flows through the Argo Dam on the Huron River in Ann Arbor on Thursday. Steve Pepple |

Ryan Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.


Charley Sullivan

Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 12:49 p.m.

Huron River paddler: before I rowed, I kayaked, in a high school white water program in DC. It's great stuff, isn't it? My question, though, is why Argo, and not, say aim at converting the Peninsular Paper Mill dam in Ypsi. The drop would be better, the tail out would be longer, and a few years ago, the US Canoe/Kayak folks told the City of Ypsi that they thought a world-class facility could go in around Frog Island. No-one I know of in Ypsi (where I live) is particularly opposed to taking that dam out, and the City is quite interested, but lacks the funds. Aside from fishing and the rubber ducky race at the Ypsilanti Heritage festival, there's little use of the stretch of the river now, and none of us pesky rowers and other pond users to tick off. I even bet you could interest Ypsi high school in starting a white water program if you were interested. Additionally, this would actually create a "free-flowing" run into Ford Lake that is much longer than the run that would be created by taking out Argo Pond. If whitewater is your aim, I'm not sure that Argo is the best answer.

Joseph Edwards

Mon, Aug 31, 2009 : 8:05 a.m.

I followed the story of the Argo Dam controversy with passing interest until I read the Other Voices editorial by Joe ONeal in the May 22, 2009 edition of the Ann Arbor News. Digging deeper, I found the Huron River and Impoundment Management Plan (HRIMP) Committee Report and watch the City Environmental Commission debate on CCTV. The manipulation of the alternatives analysis data in the HRIMP report and the bullying and condescension I witnessed by Mr. Stead, Mr. Bean and Ms Loch-Caruso toward Argo Pond supporters further pushed me to look into the matter in more detail. It seems clear to me that the delay in addressing the toe drain issue for nearly eight years has been a strategy of the mayor, the Huron River Watershed Council, and their allies to have the dam removed. Funds have been budgeted to repair the drains, but if the city fixed the drains, the chance to be hip to the latest eco-fad and remove the dam would be lost. There has been a dam in the same area of the Huron River since 1832. Has the ecology/environment not adapted over the past 177 years? Havent the issues related to erratic flows been addressed in those same 177 years? As I have stated countless times in many online forums, the decision to keep or remove the dam is NOT A ROWING ISSUE! It is very simply a cost/benefit decision. The HRIMP had the opportunity to honestly assess the alternatives related to Argo Dam and that opportunity was lost when the analysis was blatantly manipulated in favor of dam removal. Closing the millrace was not even an alternative considered by the HRIMP. Why not? Good public policy requires honest alternatives analysis. Dam removal proponents apparently have no interest in considering all the factors involved in the decision they want the dam out and the data be dammed! Sorry, but I dont think public policy decisions should not be made based on impassioned pleas. Insults hurled toward those who demand that their tax dollars are used intelligently are useless. I understand that the VA is required by both Executive Order #13423 and the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) to reduce its energy intensity by three percent per year respectively through the end of 2015 and the EPAct requires that the VA acquire at least 7.5 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2013, and the Executive Order requires that at least half of this renewable energy come from new renewable sources. The VA has determined that the electricity from retrofitted Argo and Geddes Dams would provide 25% of the VA Ann Arbors electricity needs and meet the demands of the law for the entire network of VA facilities in the area. The local VA has no other method for generating 7.5% of its electricity needs. They have piloted windmills and solar arrays, but do not have the space needed to come close to meeting their needs. The preliminary cost analysis (available at link) indicated a much better payback than the citys initial analysis. The US Army Corps of Engineers has been asked to take a closer look at retrofitting the dams, including considering the affects of any proposed carbon cap and trade law on future electricity cost. My other question to proponents of dam removal is why are you not demanding that the city stop maintaining ALL non-revenue generating city parks if you are so concerned about the cost of maintaining the dam and Argo Pond? Be consistent and demand the city stop mowing the grass at Sugar Bush Park! Tell them to stop painting picnic shelters at Geddes Park!

glenn thompson

Sun, Aug 30, 2009 : 9:56 a.m.

Sorry Jon, but you are the one who has the facts wrong. It is easy to understand how this could occur, considering the misleading headlines by and others. But if you read just a few paragraphs down in the article it states: The city now has until Nov. 1 to completely shut off the flow from Argo Dam's impoundment to the headrace It is the headrace embankment (headrace and mill race are different terms for the same thing) that is the region of concern. This is not directly part of the dam. The MDEQ has stated that if the drainage from the toe drains stops after flow to the headrace is shut off, as would be expected, they would not have any further concern at this time. Shutting off the flow to the headrace would be a simple, low cost, action and does not involve the dam in any way. The city states it already has a plan to do this. The only real point of disagreement between the city and the MDEQ is that the city states they will shut off the flow when then think the embankment is in eminent danger of collapse. The MDEQ has asked how the city will determine this condition and has requested more conservative preventative action. Shutting the flow to the headrace would be of little consequence to anyone but the local wild life if it were not part of the portage around the dam. If the city is to maintain a portage around Argo Dam it would need to repair the millrace embankment and restore flow or move the portage.

Jon Saalberg

Sun, Aug 30, 2009 : 7:13 a.m.

Well Argonaut et. al: apparently the state does not agree with your "facts", and has ordered the dam shut down. I agree with Parks Advisory Chairman Rosencrans - it's time to remove the dam and figure out an alternate solution. The rowing community will probably balk at any solution, but the state has now intervened. City council has, as often happens, talked about the issue too much instead of doing something about it, and have had their hand forced by an objective party.


Sat, Aug 29, 2009 : 5:28 p.m.

I would vote to keep the dam. I also would vote to have the city council spend the money already earmarked for repair of the toe drains. Thanks you all for the interesting conversation and the information about the misleading comments in the paper. I thought it was the dam needing repair, not just routine maintenance and repair of the drains IF NEEDED. Removing the Argo Dam would make such a small difference in the water for canoeing or kayaking that it makes no sense. Why displace active use when all that is needed is care, cleaning and maintenance? Let's clean in up, fix it up and find a way to use the Argo Dam for generating energy. Ann Arbor can live up to the "green city" theme and put in place sound decisions to preserve history, energy and outdoor use for our school rowing teams and other healthy adults!

Laurel Erickson

Sat, Aug 29, 2009 : 8:45 a.m.

D'oh. And now I just read Wystan's great little history of Argo pond. Thank you -- questions answered!

Laurel Erickson

Sat, Aug 29, 2009 : 8:38 a.m.

Just a clarification on the embankment being part of the dam -- I believe that the embankment in question is the one along the millrace (i.e. a flow of water separated off from the river with its own embankment). Again, wouldn't the most prudent and economical solution be to cut off water to the millrace? And out of curiosity, was the millrace originally put in to help power the flour mill that used to be where the Edison building now is? ("Used to be" being over 150 years ago, I think.) I have a couple old postcards of the millrace from the turn of the 20c, and it looks pretty much exactly as it does now.


Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 4:35 p.m.

LET'S KEEP ARGO POND Argo Pond has been a fixture of the local landscape since 1832, when Anson Brown erected a grist mill beside an early wooden version of the Broadway Bridge, and built the first dam to hold water back to power the mill. An internet search won't find early 19th-century references to Argo, because the pond didn't have that name until 1892, when a group of Ann Arbor businessmen, investors in the Michigan Milling Company, took over the operation and rebuilt the structure that they called the Argo Flouring Mills. The dam and pond took the name of the mills, but no one knows where that name came from. Did golden grain suggest a comparison to the brave ship Argo, carrying Jason and his men in search of the Golden Fleece? (The Michigan Milling Company had its offices on First Street, where the Blind Pig is now -- and where I'm told a certain golden liquid flows, a beverage made from grain.) The dam was rebuilt several times (and made higher, after the Edison Company acquired the water rights). But in a freak calamity that drew a crowd of spectators, the Argo mill exploded and burned on January 4, 1904. Firemen came, and the water they sprayed left a thick sheen of ice on the ruins. The mill was not rebuilt -- opening the way for Edison to erect a power generating station on the mill site. Three weeks later, on January 27, 1904, the Ann Arbor Railroad's Argo Pond trestle collapsed, dropping a heavy freight train and its cargo onto the icy surface. In the days that followed, parties of gawkers turned out for that spectacle too, including small boys who looted water-soaked crates of Beeman's Pepsin Gum. The flimsy trestle -- which is close to the dam -- got replaced with a steel trestle on massive concrete piers, still in place. (That year, 1904, was a bad one at both ends: on the last day of December, the Ann Arbor High School burned to the ground.) Throughout the 19th century, and early decades of the 20th, winter ice was harvested on Argo Pond, and stored in great blocks in straw-lined ice houses on the Main Street riverbank. Some of the ice buildings were owned by downtown caterers like Jacob Hangsterfer, whose big emporium depended on a steady supply of ice to preserve meat, and to refresh thirsty customers at his ballroom, year 'round. Another enterprising German immigrant was Paul G. Tessmer, who sold his grocery business around 1898, and opened a boat livery -- the "U. of M. Boat House" -- on the pond's Main Street side. By 1906, Tessmer had a stock of 160 canoes and 40 rowboats, all built by himself. Tessmer's docks and buildings later were moved across the pond, to the foot of Longshore Drive, and became Saunders' Canoe Livery, then Wirth's, until the 1960's, when the Ann Arbor parks department took over. On moonlit evenings in June, the pond was jammed with U-M students in canoes, boys in blazers treating their sweethearts to a mandolin serenade. Around 1900, they began calling the path along the headrace embankment "Lover's Lane." In the 1930s and '40s, the embankment became a hobo jungle. Argo Pond is an essential element of the history of Ann Arbor; it helps define our city's character. Ann Arbor has always had that pond, has grown up around it, and would not be the same without it. Someone commenting above has called it "stagnant," but of course that is absurd. It is a dynamic body, as dynamic as the city itself. The waters of the Huron have flowed since time began, and they have been flowing through the pond and over the dam, ever since Ann Arbor was a tiny village in the wilderness west of Detroit. By all means let us keep up the momentum, clear out the shabby factory buildings on North Main Street, replace them with a multi-use facility, one which includes cafes and a dining terrace that overlooks trees and water. It is a view to be enjoyed in every season. But let us never sacrifice our beloved Argo Pond, Ann Arbor's urban waterfront. Argo is an amenity of the type that any sane community would envy us for. We should consider every means of enhancing access to it, and keeping its shining surface intact. We must not let it go down the drain. I have never been in a boat on the river, never stopped to watch the oarsmen, never even dipped a toe in Argo Pond -- but I appreciate Argo's contribution to the quality of life in this place, and I like to see parts of it now and then as I drive by. I hope that it will forever remain in the heart of Ann Arbor, where it has been bubbling and rippling for 177 years.


Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 4:25 p.m.

I'm with glenn thompson on shortening the millrace (I differ, however, with his calling it "very pleasant" :-) Drain it, push the berm into it to make a nice sloping shore down to the river and put the portage (and the Argo start point) right at the dam.


Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 4:16 p.m.

If dams aren't being used for electricity, they're not good for rivers. Dams lead to a build-up of heavy metals because the river can never flush itself. Ann Arbor has a good electrical dam at Barton, and Barton Pond would be far better for the rowers. In terms of numbers, most people who use the river are canoeists and kayakers, and removing the dam would significantly improve the river for the greatest number of people.

glenn thompson

Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 10:30 a.m.

The millrace is a very pleasant, somewhat secluded, pond parallel to the river. I'll post some pictures soon. Water enters the millrace through a concrete channel off Argo Pond just before Argo Dam. This channel has slots in each side on the concrete. It would be very easy to block the flow into the millrace by simply dropping a steel plate into these slots. The city should have all of the material and equipment to do this. It should be very inexpensive. The MDEQ concern is the embankment separating the millrace from the river. If the inflow to the millrace is shut off most of the water would simply drain from the downstream end near the Broadway bridge. Some pumping would probably be required to completely empty any local pools. This would satisfy the MDEQ's concerns at very low cost. Without the water in the millrace you can inspect much more carefully. On a recent visit the toe drains were flowing water. Most were accessible and seemed to be working. I don't think the problem is very severe; just add some material in some spots and remove vegetation. The hardest part is that this section of the river is not easily accessible. One option would be to reduce the length of the mill race. This could greatly reduce the length that would need to be repaired and hence the cost, but would make the canoe portage more difficult. It could also be a lower cost approach to introduce hydroelectric generation.

Wayne Appleyard

Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 9:39 a.m.

Little has been mentioned about the energy production potential of the dam. A study was done that shows that although at current rates there would be a long(40 year payback) on recommissioning the dam, it could generate a substantial amount of electricity. Facing, global warming, carbon taxes and caps and trade issues, I believe that it would be environmentally prudent to keep the dam and look into recommissioning it. There may come a day in the very near future when, we will look back and wish we had kept this relatively clean source of energy intact. As a member of the Ann Arbor Energy Commission, I know a bit about both the problems with how we currently generate our electricity in Michigan and how difficult it is going to be to free us from our fossil fuel addiction. The Argo Dam can be one peace in that process. Please note that the above opinion is mine alone and does not necessarily represent those of the Energy Commission as a whole.


Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 9:27 a.m.

Thanks for posting that Charley - your concerns and insights here come from a perspective the public (including myself) does not often hear. Though I certainly may make it sound like I'm firmly decided, I'm still open to changing my opinion if new arguments come to light. I haven't yet, and likely won't until budget and funding source issues can be reasonably addressed. I will certainly file your away points (and advice) as valuable considerations. If this discussion provides most useful insight to anything, I suppose it is how the PAC and city council get swamped such a painfully long, drawn out process. Still, you can only hem and haw for so long, and I feel a very important role in leadership is, well, leadership. The people we elect to manage our budget and resources need to do their best to educate themselves on all sides and details of a concern, then make a decision. Neither way is going to make everyone happy, and there's nothing we can do to change that, so the local government needs to step up and take charge, and for heaven's sakes, get something done. I know there's a lot of gray area, but at some point a decision has to be made. I know, Bush did that on a national scale and look what happened, but he's pure evil so that doesn't count.;)

Otto Mobeal

Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 9:25 a.m.

Tear down the Dam. It has been great in Dexter, why not A2?


Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 9:04 a.m.

I meant 'dam', not 'damn'.


Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 8:59 a.m.

Jon. Perhaps Laura is a nice person, but she has, from the beginning, misrepresented the reality of the situation, lest you've forgotten her "the dam is a danger" piece in the Ann Arbor News which was thoroughly discredited. She either didn't know what she was talking about, or she willingly tried to mislead people, or her work is just sloppy. The rowing information on her website is incorrect or misleading, and is definitely one-sided, but it is repeated in the comments on this page unquestioningly. There is certainly an argument on her website, but there's no "data" common-sense or otherwise; it's a party line that's being spouted, and one she knows has serious flaws, or should. Or is she being sloppy again? In any case, there's no shame in calling her and the commenters quoting directly from her website out.


Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 8:59 a.m.

"common sense data" is an oxymoron and not a compelling argument. Show me the evidence. The data that I have seen indicates that cost of removal is roughly similar to cost of repair and upkeep. I also challenge the assertion that more paddlers would frequent the water if the damn were to be removed. I row on the pond daily, and recall a rainy weekend in May when the water levels were so high below the damn, that the livery closed that area to paddlers. Where did everyone go? The pond of course; there were twice as many kayakers and canoeists for the entire weekend. E Sinka

ken Jones

Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 8:55 a.m.

My wife and I drive into Ann Arbor on Main Street from US 23. On more than one occasion we have looked at the East side of the road along the Argo Park and the Dam and said wow that would be a great place to have restaurants and a river walk with stores and tourists. Kind of like Frankenmuth. All we see there now is old dilapidated buildings occupied by businesses that could be somewhere else. I think Ann Arbor needs to think of the ARGO Dam issue as a opportunity to attract investments to improve the area. Dam or no Dam there needs to be a true vision of the future of the area.

Mumbambu, Esq.

Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 8:30 a.m.

This is without question the best discussion on the commenting boardsI've seen since the July launch- on topic, generally respectful and informative. Rowers and environmentalists must be the smartest groups we have in this community. I think there is an avid bicyclist in there too :)

Jon Saalberg

Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 8 a.m.

Argonaut: shame on you. There is plenty of common sense data on why the dam should be removed, both environmentally and fiscally speaking. The dig against Laura Rubin is uncalled for. As one who knows her, your personal attacks are simply without merit - it would be hard to find a person more concerned with the environmental integrity of our area.

Charley Sullivan

Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 7:48 a.m.

Amlive, thanks for the apology, and no probs on the spelling. Please don't for a second assume that the University, as in the big U with a budget, is the entity behind the U-M Men's Rowing Team. Although I believe they're glad we're here, and are glad we're successful, they're also glad that our presence and success have been totally driven by students without any budget implications to them. And in the current realities of the U-M budget, I suspect it would be highly doubtful that my team would somehow suddenly find a place in that budget significant enough for us to even be able to move were the dam removed. I'll take you at your word that your public position in town and taking a position on this dam might damage your business; things are becoming heated. But, if you'll allow me a little personal coaching (which is also something Gregg Hartsuff and I do to help pay the bills,) and as we've said to our athletes about rowing-related blogs and boards, don't say anything on a board or in a tone that you wouldn't want representing you with your real name.


Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 7:42 a.m.

Why don't we do what the state said: drain the headrace, remove the dead trees (and the invasives while we're at it), clean the drains, and then see how much it would cost to fix the embankment? I keep seeing this "could cost hundreds of thousands" statement, which means it could cost $20,000 or could cost $200,000. If you think about what the problem is, we have an earthen wall, just like at Barton Pond, with pipes in the bottom to drain water that leaks through. We allowed it to get covered with weedy, junk trees, and didn't bother to check the pipes - for decades - even though the state kept telling us we needed to do the basic maintenance that we do at Barton. What the letter says we need to do to fix it is to remove the dead trees, find the drains, clean them out, and then see if they work properly. This strikes me as fairly cheap, and probably getting cheaper by the day in this recession. The potential expense comes if we find the toe drains don't work properly. But is it really prudent to destroy a multi-million dollar investment before spending $20 thousand to see if there's really a problem? That's like junking a BMW because there's a squeak that might be expensive to fix. It would be very helpful if you could use pictures of the headrace, not the perfectly functional dam itself. As the DEQ says in their 12/2007 letter, "The principal spilway of the dam is in good condition, with several recommendations for maintenance and monitoring." There's nothing functionally wrong with the dam itself. It's the dirt embankment that we haven't bothered to maintain that's the problem. A picture of that, or maybe an aerial photo with the embankment outlined, would be more appropriate. I think most people would agree that it's overgrown and we should at least remove the dead trees, remove the invasives, and prune back the rest. Since we could be producing clean energy from this dam, we really should take the basic, cheap steps before we decide to throw the whole thing away.


Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 7:15 a.m.

What a surprise! You have to wonder how long the DEQ will keep putting up with the City dragging its feet on taking action on Argo Dam. It's been 5 years of letting the earthen part of the dam deteriorate. In actuality, the City of Ann Arbor budgeted to repair the dam several years ago, but has not spent the money for whatever reason. When talking about the costs to the community of keeping the dam vs. removing it, it's clear that removal will cost a lot more money. Just the price to build a new pedestrian bridge will equal the cost to remove the dam itself. And that doesn't address the millions of dollars it will cost to clean up and restore the reclaimed land, rebuild river access points like docks, boat landings, etc, and move the rowing community. The yearly maintenance costs will be a drop in the bucket compared to the recreational use and beauty Argo Pond provides. Another reality is that the City has NEVER determined whether it's even feasible to move the rowing community to other locations. Barton Village has blocked attempts to start rowing there in the past and asked the U-M men to leave back in the 1980's. Gallup is already a congested park with limited parking and lots of water users. Will users of that park facility welcome the rowers? The fact is that Bandemer Park (next to Argo Pond) provides a location where rowing occurs today with minimal impact to other water users and neighbors. The most logical and financially responsible course of action in these difficult economic times is to keep the dam.

Tony Dearing

Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 6:51 a.m.

Here's the link to the Chronicle story that Rici refers to:

Laurel Erickson

Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 6:43 a.m.

If the issue is the embankment and not the dam, why is the solution to remove the dam? Wouldn't the solution be to turn off water flow to the headrace? This has confused me since day one. I am not a rower but I am a runner. Argo park already has lovely trails for all to enjoy -- I really don't buy the argument that adding more trails would be a huge benefit to all. More people need to get out and enjoy the trails that already exist! Finally, we live in a city; our river is never going to return to a natural state -- especially when there are additional dams (Barton and Gallop)about a mile up- and downstream.


Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 2:04 a.m.

Eh, who the heck has started this "it's all about the rowing teams" nonsense? I've seen the most absurd pejoratives applied to Argo Pond (stinky, weedy, etc). I'm one of the regular visitors to Bandemere, Long Shore, Beckley parks along Argo Pond - and I'm far from alone. There are joggers, cyclists and people fishing all around Argo Pond - with the rowing teams adding a pleasant backdrop. If you live on the North and West sides of town, Argo is the closest place where you can find a "body of water" with birds and waterfowl living there. If Argo Pond is such an eyesore, then explain to us how beautiful photos of the Argo Pond appear here and there. People (like me) take photos of natural beauty where they find it - and they find it at Argo Pond as much as they do anywhere in the area. It's plain that the city is most responsible for this hang-dog image given Argo Pond. It's right there in writing: the city has ignored state mandated remedies for years. Now they are cornered - and out come the critics who've been entirely silent until this easy target came along. So count me with the rowers and the others who enjoy Argo Pond. I agree though that means must be found to pay for keeping and maintaining it - along with the other parks and natural areas we all enjoy in Ann Arbor. We need someone to rally support and to point to what Argo Pond can be. Lets have a rally, lets have a row-in, lets have a parade. Only - lets not have another neglect-then-abandon solution to our problems. That method has been applied to other areas of Michigan and it doesn't seem to be working out very well.


Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 1:40 a.m.

Oops - Charley, sorry for misspelling your name - honest error, no disrespect. Thanks again for posting here.


Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 1:37 a.m.

Sorry to offend you Charlie - I did not intend to suggest that the University sports departments were being overtly sexist, but rather pointing to an apparent irony that arguments of "inconvenience" I read as having been made for the men's rowing teams, while the women were already traveling out to Belleville. Thank you for clearing up the circumstances, I understand your frustrations, and apologize for the error. Still, this does not in the end sound like a concern that the citizens of Ann Arbor should be left to pay for. I would hate to see the men's rowing team disappear, but I'm of the opinion that if the University wants to maintain the team then they need to take the initiative to find a way to fund it properly out of their budget. And sorry for not signing my name, but I run a business that is very non-political, my clients run the whole gamut of opinion, and I prefer to avoid potential conflict that may be introduced by my expression of personal views in forums like this. I wish I could, as I do hold personal accountability in high importance, but in any politicized forum such as this I've simply decided it to be an unwise choice for me. I am indeed sorry for that, but it's how it has to be for me. Thank you very much for posting here and presenting your argument. You've offered some very valid and important concerns. Still, in spite of potential loss in your area I do still feel it in the best interest of the overall community to remove the dam. I am sorry, but I still hold that position, and I do hope that if it moves this direction the university can still find ways to appropriately accommodate your rowing team.


Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 1:12 a.m.

Argonaut (should be spelled Argonought, by the way, if you're alluding to the old battle ships - very clever by the way, I'll give you that). I assume from your name that you are in some way involved in rowing on Argo dam pond. You'll notice that my arguments never even touch environmental concerns. Though I do happen to feel that dams are generally abhorrent eyesores and environmentally destructive, I do agree that this dam's removal will have little to no effect on the health of the river of ecosystem on the whole. My arguments for removal are simply based on economical fairness. If the projected costs of maintaining the dam are expected to exceed those of removing it, the I argue that unless it can be shown that the increased cost of maintenance and repairs will be of notable value to the community that is paying for it, the solution should naturally be removal by default. If the rowing community can demonstrate that their clubs would fail or dissolve, because no other options for rowing facilities could be feasible, and the effect of the loss of these clubs on the community would outweigh the cost savings of dam removal, then I would consider maintaining the dam as a reasonable option. If you want the city to cover the costs though, the burden of proving this argument should lie with the rowers. I quite simply do not think that argument can be reasonably made however. Yes, relocating the rowing facilities would be an inconvenient and certainly costly change, but I believe it is neither impossible nor unfeasible. If the dam gets pulled, the rowing teams will find a way to deal with it and fund the transition, and the rest of the city residents won't have to foot the bill for maintaining a dam that serves no other purpose.

Charley Sullivan

Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 12:56 a.m.

Amlive, if you're going to comment on rowing teams and the reality of our situations, you should do better research. The errors in your last post are simply atrocious, particularly the implication that somehow there's sexism at play in the Michigan Men remaining on Argo as a convenience while the women have moved to Belleville. If you even had the slightest clue about the history of rowing at the University of Michigan, you would know how ridiculous an assertion that is. The Michigan Women moved to Belleville when they were raised to Varsity status, complete with a budget, scholarships and a hired coaching staff. That budget, and Athletic Department support, allowed them to build a state-of-the-art boathouse, from which the men were, by terms of the agreement with Van Buren township, specifically excluded, even to train out of on occasion. The men's team, which I coach, is a club team. You can count the money we receive from the university each year in the four figures [the women's team is supported in the seven figures... do the math!] So, sexism? Truly?? My team being on Argo is not about convenience; it is about survival. We exist only because we have a product we sell to the athletes, who each also pay in the four figures (and it doesn't start with a 1) each year to row. The athletes fit their training into their school day, without the benefit of Athletic Department tutors or vans paid for by the budget. Add significant time or cost to their commute to practice, and we lose athletes, ie., lose budget, and the team is at risk. As it is, we have the shortest water of any college team in the top 20, by far, and I'm hard pressed to think of ANY college team with shorter water than we have, except perhaps for the University of Central Florida, but they can row around their round lake and get more time in. Take us to shorter or less usable water, and for our purposes at the college level at least, that includes both Gallup and Barton, and we train less effectively and go slower. So, please, advocate for removing the dam all you want; we live in a free country. But please get your facts straight first, and have a clue about what you're talking about. And signing your own name might help. Charley Sullivan Associate Head Coach, U-M Men's Rowing Team


Fri, Aug 28, 2009 : 12:29 a.m.

Ah yes, the ever-respectful tones of Laura Rubin's dam-out cabal spread on the Ann Arbor web scene yet again. Waa, waa, waa, Ann Arbor Resident? Really?? Some of you are giving environmentalism a ridiculously bad name. Humans have always interacted with the environment by forming it, particularly in cities, and Argo is an urban dam on an urban waterway. Taking it out will not make the river more healthy, or more natural, given that there are 90-odd other dams on the river that aren't coming down any time soon, (including three others in the city that no-one is making a move to take out) any more than pulling down your houses and living in tents on your soon-to-be-reforested lots would make the land healthier. But since this issue is now, as Laura said herself, about her own integrity, I expect nothing but more vituperative attacks on the rowing community by those who increasingly realize the dam is going nowhere, but their integrity is on the line. Good luck with it.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 9:08 p.m.

Rici, you are exactly right. The embankment is considered part of the dam and is what the state is referring to when it says the dam is in disrepair.


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 8:57 p.m.

Let the water flow free! Send the rowers to the other side of town at Gallup. Pay to remove the damn and increase green park space and trails around the current argo pond.


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 8:51 p.m.

This article makes a distinction between the "embankment" and the dam, but isn't the embankment actually considered part of the dam? So when the state says the dam is in disrepair, that is what they are referring to. Also, The PAC vote for "dam in" was 5-4 - clearly opinion is not one-sided. By contrast, the Environmental Commission voted for "dam out." Both Anglin and Greden tried to hedge their bets and were quoted as "undecided" on the dam issue until close to the election (either A2 Journal or Observer, I no longer have it in hand). Now that the election is over, maybe Anglin can listen to the facts and see that the rowers can be accommodated elsewhere. That is the primary argument for keeping it (or at least the primary argument that came into play at election time!). This whole thing reminds me of the fight about opening a 3rd comprehensive high school - argue it to death for 10 years before doing anything (because - gasp! we might have to change!). Meanwhile, waste lots of time and energy. Hopefully this won't get my comment deleted, but this issue is covered in much more depth at Perhaps some of the questions in comments would be answered by reading there.


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 5:48 p.m.

I am all for user fees. Here's an equitable formula: Take the total cost of all parks. Divide it by annual users. Charge each user equally.... One city. One user formula.... If a park is no longer supported by user fees, donate the land to Habitat for Humanity for housing.... : )


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 5:34 p.m.

I know this is a contentious issue for many, but for God's sake, it's been going on long enough and the City has to make up it's mind. My opinion, I think it's a ridiculous burden to keep it. There's no challenge to the claim that maintaining it will cost the city more than it's removal, and the only purpose it currently serves is for a very small group of rowers. Most of the paddlers mentioned above would be just as happy (if not more so) canoeing a flowing river than a stagnant shallow pond. Not to belittle the loss of the rowing teams, but it would not destroy their area, but only serve as an inconvenience. They may not all fit down at Gallup, but there's plenty of room up at Barton. I know, the wind direction isn't perfect, waa waa waa. Suck it up - it will make you push yourself harder in training, and you'll be all the better for it. Removing the dam would have both economical and environmental benefits. Keeping it would save the rowing teams an inconvenience. You have to pick your battles. Mike Anglin simply knows that they wine so loud that their little majority can be quite influential in swaying opinion, and I am deeply, deeply disappointed with his decision. If the rowers want to keep it, let them pay for it. Right now, the money to maintain it isn't even coming from the Parks and Recreation budget - We're paying for it in our water bills, though the dam has nothing to do with nor any impact on our water supply or quality. If it's sole purpose is recreation, it's maintenance cost should be coming out of the Parks and Recreation budget. Is Mike planning to address that issue? I wonder if he'd be so enthusiastic about maintaining the dam, if it were to put the already overloaded parks budget further in the hole, and force the closure of Mack pool and Leslie Science Center (remember that issue?).I know Scott's recommendation to remove the dam may have been unpopular with some, but I would rather have had a council member who knows that in tight times you have to be honest about where money comes from, and pragmatic about where it is spent. Instead we seem to have one who just wants to look at the budget through rose colored glasses, and quietly brush real problems aside without having to make the tough choices.If you want to keep the dam, start a fund raiser and figure out how to pay for it. I certainly won't see any benefit from it when my water bill goes up.

Ann Arbor Resident

Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 5:33 p.m.

If we keep the dam, I believe fees for users should be increased to cover the real cost of keeping the dam operational: increased rental fees, dock fees, use fees to the rowing clubs and school teams, etc.


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 4:51 p.m.

PAC Chairman Scott Rosencrans says that the dam should close, regardless of the recent PAC vote to keep the dam in place?... This issue already had affect on Rosencrans, playing part in his defeated primary bid for council.... In essence, damn the voters, damn the PAC vote, damn the dam?... I hope our other elected officials are taking notice and listening. The recent disdain for constituents has taken its toll, resulting in primary defeat and incumbent ousting. There is plenty more to come!... Argo Pond is an historic landmark, used by many, and unrivaled in its use. There is no local replacement, regardless of political rhetoric.... Thank you Mike Anglin for supporting Argo Dam and its users!


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 4:14 p.m.

I'd love to see more of a free-flowing river through town. We have tons of ponds but this would open up more trails, bike paths, fishing spots, kayaking, and flood storage. Plus, we don't have parks money to keep spending on this and all of the future maintenance costs.