After months of debate, state officials say Argo Dam can stay

Aaron Augsburger/Daily
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BY ALEX KIRSHENBAUM
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 1, 2010

Crews began clearing the Argo Dam embankment yesterday, after months of deliberation over the dam’s fate.

Last week, City of Ann Arbor officials were given the go-ahead from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment to keep the dam, which allows for the creation of Argo Pond, as long as the embankment is cleared of trees and their roots.

Controversy over the fate of the dam began last August when the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality — now known as the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment — wrote to City Administrator Roger Fraser asking that the dam be repaired or removed.

In response, the city hired a consulting firm to evaluate the status of the dam. The results of the evaluation, which were sent to MDNRE earlier this year, found that the dam was “safe and did not need repairs.”

Though MDNRE is allowing the city to keep the dam, according to a March 24 press release, the department doesn’t completely agree with the firm’s findings. According to the release, MDNRE officials are still concerned about the structural integrity of the dam. The release also stated that maintenance was still necessary to keep the dam in place.

The required clean up began yesterday, consisting, for now, of the removal of trees and brush, both living and dead, and the removal of their roots, which make the embankment prone to leakage.

The press release also stated that “the City must also develop a vegetation management plan that will include both short- and long-term strategies for managing all of the woody vegetation on the embankment.”

According to Ann Arbor City Councilmember Sabra Briere (D-Ward 1), however, the need for maintenance is a “no news thing.” The state has repeatedly approached the city regarding the dam’s upkeep, she said.

What made MDNRE’s demands so controversial, however, was the suggestion that the dam be removed. Many rowing teams — including the Michigan Men's Rowing Team — were concerned about losing the dam because they use the pond for practice.

Though MDNRE originally cited a lack of upkeep of the embankment as the reason for the removal of the dam, some local groups began arguing for the dam’s removal based on environmental concerns.

Briere said the decision to remove the dam can't be one based solely on the dam’s integrity, as the cement dam itself is in excellent condition. Instead, she said that the river’s best interest must be kept in mind when deciding what to do with the dam.

“Personally, I’m really fond of the pond, but I’m willing to consider whether it’s better for the river to have the pond gone,” Briere said. “I have to believe it’s better, scientifically, for the river to have the pond gone.”

Briere added that not all environmental activists think removing the dam is a good idea.

“Not all people who support doing good things for the environment supported removing the dam,” she said.

Briere said if the city does decide to remove the dam, the decision will have to come in the future because, currently, the city can't afford to build the park that would be created by the dam’s removal.