City puts stop log in place at Argo Dam ahead of fixes

BY ELY TWIGGS
Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 20, 2010

Students and Ann Arbor residents looking to go canoeing or kayaking in the Argo dam will have to find another place to take their recreational boats, thanks to a stop log installed in the structure of the dam last week.

This log will allow the headrace — a 1,500 foot-long channel — of the dam to drain slowly in preparation for upcoming repairs and will also cease the dam’s waterflow for recreational purposes like canoeing and kayaking.

The repairs include reconstructing the headrace and improvements of the border-to-border trail that lines the embankment path. While the repairs may affect people trying to go to Gallup Park, rowing teams will be able to continue their practice routines on the pond. In addition, the stop log is expected to be of “minimal impact” to canoeists since canoeing season ends around mid-October, said Colin Smith, manager for Ann Arbor's Parks and Recreation Services.

The Argo dam has been a topic of controversy since talks of changing the mechanics of the dam started last August when City Administrator Roger Fraser received a letter from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Environment saying that if the dam wasn’t repaired, it needed to be removed.

The stop log was put in place because of an agreement between MDNRE and the city to address the state’s issues with the dam, said Molly Wade, manager of the city’s water quality.

“Until we resolve the headrace embankment deficiencies that are defined in the consent agreement with the state, we are basically shutting down any river passage for canoeists,” Wade said. “That is mandated by the state; we don’t have choice in this matter.”

Wade added that if City Council approves a proposal to address the head race at its meeting on Nov. 17, the dam would be repaired by mid-summer of next year.

On Tuesday night, the Park Advisory Commission received the headrace proposal favorably with a 7-to-1 vote approving plans to reconstruct the embankment and headrace.

“City Council is the ultimate decision maker,” Smith said.

According to Smith, the consent agreement was chosen from two options, one of which was a proposal to repair the toe drain, which would cost between $700,000 and $850,000. The other option, which focuses on repairing the headrace, would cost about $1 million but would ease most of the safety concerns that the state has regarding the Argo dam.

Smith said merely repairing the toe drains would leave the headrace embankment deficient and probably wouldn’t solve the dam’s issues.

Reconfiguring the headrace — the second option at a cost of about $988,000 — such that the embankment actually connects the headrace to the Huron River, will remove pressure on the embankment, Smith said. The changes would alleviate the issues presented by the toe drains and create a paved path.

Smith said he is hopeful that the city will approve the project, but there is no way of telling if the drafted costs and plans will be received favorably.

“I’m sure the council will have a number of questions, and ultimately it is a community decision for the direction that this ends up going,” Smith said.