Dam Out: Benefits of removing Argo Dam far outweigh the cost of keeping it
As a long-time Ann Arbor resident I read with great interest, and some concern, the AnnArbor.com’s Sunday print edition editorial (Sept. 6) on the Argo Dam issue.
First, I would recommend to all that if they have not already done so, they should read the article entitled “Restoring the Huron” which appears in the Fall 2009 newsletter of the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC). In this context I would also like to point out that the HRWC, throughout its 45-year history, has taken a very well-researched and balanced approach to resource management issues involving the Huron River and the local communit
My only point of agreement with your editorial is that the Argo dam decision -whatever it may be - will not please everyone. This issue (i.e. “dam in” vs “dam out”) is truly one of those classic resource management questions involving financial, ecological, and recreational factors, and is probably the most controversial and emotionally-charged of such resource management questions that Ann Arbor has faced in a long time.
But this does not mean, however, as your editorial states, that there is no best decision to be made here, and your conclusion recommending “dam in” opts for avoidance of short term discontent and fails to consider the larger picture of what is best - financially, ecologically, and recreationally - for the largest number of constituents for the longest period of time. And “constituents” should be broadly conceived here to include all of Ann Arbor’s residents, the Huron River itself, and all of the components of its ecosystem.
I think, in fact, that a full and complete analysis of this issue can only lead to the conclusion that over the long haul the benefits of dam removal - financially, recreationally, and ecologically - far outweigh the benefits of repair and retention of the Argo dam.
The ecological benefits, though perhaps less tangible and harder to quantify as they relate to the average citizen, have been well documented by HRWC and others.
Recreationally, your editorial takes a very unfair and misleading either/or stance, equating “dam in” with “ deeply valuing the recreational resource that Argo pond offers the community ”, and equating “dam out” with “ valuing the admirable goal of restoring the river .” Although you note that Argo pond is an asset in its current state you fail to note that its benefits - which are at considerable annual and on-going financial expense to the city and ecological expense to the river - accrue largely to a very small subset of users, i.e. the rowing community.
Your comment that “It’s (Argo pond) been in place for decades ” does not represent a reason for its retention in the future, and your statement that Argo “ is used by outdoor enthusiasts of all sorts .” is self-serving, but would be much more accurate if the dam were removed, providing a greater range of recreational opportunities to a larger number of potential users of the resulting riverine environment.
Financially, it is clear that Ann Arbor city government is facing, and will continue to face in the future, the question of how best to allocate scarce financial resources, and in this context the issue of one-time costs of “dam out” versus the on-going annual costs of “dam in” - and how to avoid the latter when the long view argues for the former - becomes an important fiscal consideration. This is especially true when those on-going city financial costs support a limited recreational benefit while at the same time preventing an optimal repairing and improving of the riverine environment.
As your editorial concludes, the Argo dam decision will be a tough one, but I believe - unlike your editorial - that there really is a right decision and a wrong decision to be made here, and I hope that our City Council, in its collective wisdom, has the political will and courage to not be swayed by short term political expediency and the demands of a vocal interest group, but instead to take the long view and do what is best financially, recreationally, and ecologically for the entire city (its citizens and its river) over the long haul of time.
Owen Jansson recently retired as an assistant director of a research center at the University of Michigan. He served as executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council from 1973-77.