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Posted on Sun, Jun 19, 2011 : 3:53 p.m.

Residents praise improvements to West Park, but question whether stormwater fixes are enough to handle heavy rains

By Juliana Keeping

Ann Arbor showcased improvements to West Park Sunday that included large swaths of native prairie and wetland plantings meant to cleanse rainwater runoff from North Seventh Street, as well a pair of orange steel trees, a new public art installment.

West Park was closed from March to October 2010 so stormwater and recreational and improvements could be completed, city park planner Amy Kuras said.

A four-hour event Sunday was West Park’s official re-opening ceremony. Events included speeches from public officials and a performance from the Ann Arbor Civic Band and others in the renovated 1930s-era bandshell. The event also served as a day of appreciation for hundreds of city volunteers who help each year to clear city parks of invasive species and keep the parks clean.

But nearby residents, while complimenting the numerous improvements, wondered if stormwater improvements meant to improve water quality into Allen Creek, which flows under the park in pipes, made flooding on North Seventh Street worse during recent spring rains. They say they’ve asked the city to explain what’s going on, and they can’t get answers.

Numerous improvements were made to address flooding at the park, Kuras said. The Ann Arbor City Council approved the project in 2009, allocating almost $1.4 million from its Stormwater Fund. Overall, the improvements cost about $1.8 million, Kuras said.

Recreational improvements include pathways, a new pond, bench seating built into the hillside surrounding the band shell, and organic community gardens from Project Grow.

Two branches of Allen Creek run under and meet directly under West Park, Kuras said. The new native planting areas, or bioswales, were planted above the underground creek, which has been contained in pipes under Ann Arbor since the 1920s. A new pond in an area of the park that naturally flooded anyway is now home to lots of toads and frogs.

Enhancements like these are meant to make dry areas of the formerly soggy park drier, and wet areas wetter, Kuras said.

North Seventh Street was totally flooded during storms, residents said. They blame a new drain configuration that was done at the same time as the stormwater improvements for West Park. Under the improvements, stormwater runs directly into the two new bioswale areas, above ground. Before, it drained into the underground Allen Creek.

Kuras said the above-ground drainage helps clean the water before it reaches the Huron River.

Residents want to know why a new drainage feature called a swirl concentrator eroded land in a section of the park near North Seventh Street. It's currently fenced off.

Susan Johnson lives off of Seventh Street near the park.

“It doesn’t work when there’s a hard rain,” she said.

Her daughter Molly, 9, loves the new pond in the park. But she compared her street to “white water rafting,” as her mom shared her opinions on the new drain configuration.

City Councilman Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, said 81 basements flooded in his ward since rain picked up in April.

According to Anglin, the city, county and contractor who installed it can’t come to an agreement over whose job it is to fix the busted “swirler” off of North Seventh Street. Nothing will happen to fix the swirler problem until a decision is made, he said.

"We're working through all that," Kuras said.

The abnormally heavy spring rains flooded other sections of Ann Arbor, too, she said, such as on Depot and Chapin streets nearby.

"When we have as storm system that doesn’t have the capacity to carry the water from the huge storms we’re having, that’s the big picture reason," she said of flooding around Ann Arbor.

Juliana Keeping covers general assignment and health and the environment for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter


Terrence Brennan

Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 12:47 p.m.

I live right on the park and there is some professional grade buck-passing going on in regard to the storm water. These people that work for the city would have a rude awakening if they had a job in the private sector where results were expected of them in areas of clearly defined responsibility. How many of us would've been fired by now if we were running this thing?


Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 2:55 p.m.

No one would have been fired, Terrence, if your employer were rational. The big picture is that the City managed to act quickly to secure federal money, to effect a major, permanent upgrade to an important park. The swirl concentrators and drainage issues, if any, will be fixed, but the larger achievement -- a previously dilapidated, now impressive and inviting public space -- will be around a long time.


Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 2:44 a.m.

CynicA2, you're living up to your pseudonym, and you'd lose the bet. I walked through the park after a heavy rain, and the walks were wet, but not flooded. There are a lot of good things happening in West Park now. The Grand Opening today was delightful, and there are not one but two theater troupes (Blackbird Theatre and the Penny Seats Theater Company) preparing shows in the bandshell. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>! <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Also the Project Grow gardens are getting started, the playground has been improved, lots of good stuff. As to storm water though, I think it's really too early to tell. Partly because of the busted swirl concentrators, and really, those things failed in the winter time, and we still don't have resolution? but also because much of the planting is not done yet. Large scale plantings of native grasses and wetland plants were supposed to go in this spring, but apparently it was too wet to plant. So all that's covering the park is the rye grass that was planted as a cover for erosion control. The plantings are now supposed to happen in the fall. When there's thicker turf on the dry areas, and good stands of wetland plants in the swales, the flow of water in the park will be very different.


Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 2:58 p.m.

The water in the swales drains down into the ground fast enough that mosquitos can't fully develop in it. The wetland plants that will be planted in them will help with this too. The only standing water should be the large pond, and it is large enough and permanent enough to support a good population of the predator insects and other things that control mosquitos. If that doesn't work, there is a cheap and low impact way of treating the pond that kills mosquito larvae but is not toxic to other animals. It's a variant of the BT product that is used for moths. If you're really worried about mosquitos, you'd be better off focusing on all the clogged roof gutters in town. Mosquitos love to breed in them -- few or no predators.


Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 5:53 a.m.

Seventh Street has never flooded before that I can remember, and I have considerable history here. As for the walks, we'll see as time goes on - I'll be watching. All that standing water just sounds like a giant mosquito breeder to me. The frogs and toads should have plenty to eat. When all is said and done, West Park will be what it has always been - a pleasant place to while away an hour or two while strolling, sitting, or shooting a few hoops, with a few homeless grilling hot dogs, or having a nip, or sleeping.


Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 12:23 a.m.

Sounds like all that expensive meddling created more problems than it solved. I bet the pathways by the basketball court still flood after it rains, too. What a joke! Your tax dollars (literally) &quot;down the drain&quot; - oops! - the drain is plugged-up! Very funny.

Berda Green

Sun, Jun 19, 2011 : 10:42 p.m.