The future of Argo Pond is still undecided as the Ann Arbor City Council unanimously voted Monday night to table a resolution that would repair 90-year-old Argo Dam and save Argo Pond.
The dam, which was built in 1920, today serves as a barrier to the natural flow of the Huron River, which makes the body of water before it, termed Argo Pond, a suitable option for recreational activities — like practice for the five Ann Arbor-area rowing teams including the Michigan Men’s Club Rowing Team.
A recent “dam-in” resolution sponsored by Councilmembers Marcia Higgins (D–Ward 4), Stephen Rapundalo (D–Ward 2) and Sandi Smith (D–Ward 1) proposed that Argo Pond be maintained and any infrastructure deficiencies in Argo Dam be repaired. The resolution was introduced only a few days before the City Council meeting, with council members expected to vote on the resolution Monday night.
With only seven council members present at the meeting and six votes required for the resolution to pass, the Council decided it was best to address the matter at a later date.
During the meeting, Councilmember Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) expressed uncertainty regarding the resolution, which coupled two issues – keeping the dam and initiating repairs – into one resolution.
Councilmember Carsten Hohnke (D–Ward 5) voiced further concern with what he said was unclear wording in the resolution, also noting that the council was not given adequate time to prepare for a vote on the resolution.
“We received the revised language 20 minutes into this meeting. I would argue there’s still some language in here that seems ambiguous to me,” Hohnke said during the meeting. “I think it’s incredibly unclear for a resolution of this magnitude.”
With interest in how the Council would tackle this continued debate, eight speakers from the community presented their positions at the meeting and many more concerned citizens attended to hear the council’s decision.
Concerns about Argo Dam were first raised in 1995 because of a fishery study, said Laura Rubin, the executive director of the Huron Watershed Council. She said, however, that there has never really been much serious discussion on the issue.
The Huron Watershed Council is a non-profit organization and the leader in advocating the removal of Argo Dam because, as members say, its removal will restore the Huron River to its natural course.
Rubin was the only community speaker present at the meeting to voice opposition to the resolution in favor of keeping and repairing Argo Dam. She argued that the U.S. Geological Service has years of solid data proving the dam currently disrupts the natural flow of the Huron River.
“We rely on the Huron River to serve as a crown jewel of Washtenaw County’s natural environment,” Lana Pollack, president of the Michigan Environmental Council, wrote in an e-mail to City Council. “It is therefore especially distressing year by year to witness degradation of the river’s health with the increasing growth of slimy, unsightly aquatic plant life.”
Resolution supporters also came prepared with their own scientific evidence, which they say confirmed the contrary.
Ann Arbor resident Jeff DeBoer addressed the council, arguing that the river would revert to its natural course if Argo Dam is removed but that it would not be a good thing. He said this natural course would take the river through what he calls the toxic property of nearby DTE Energy Company, which would be bad for the water.
DeBoer said that if the dam was removed it might be possible to reroute the river to take a different path, but he said this would be expensive.
Joe O’Neal, owner of O’Neal Construction Company, whose company oversaw the construction of Argo Dam, estimated that removing the dam will cost $1 million in addition to $750,000 to $1 million to train the river to flow a different course.
He explained that removal of the dam itself is not a large expense, but training the river and converting the river to a recreation area will surpass the cost of a yearly maintenance fee of $100,000 for the dam.
Another speaker Ron Woodman provided what he presented as scientific evidence of his own — drinking water from Argo Pond out of a clear Starbucks coffee cup — to demonstrate that the water was clean and capable of sustaining a healthy environment.
Rubin, on the other hand, said she was not convinced.
“I don’t think there’s any validity to it,” she said after the meeting. “The irony is we’re here to protect the river and the watershed. The last thing we want to do is have it run through the most contaminated site in the city.”
Supporters of the “dam-in” resolution also argued that removing the dam would destroy a recreation area enjoyed by many who canoe, kayak or fish on the river. Of special interest in the pond’s preservation are members of local rowing teams.
Crew members from Huron High School and Pioneer High school appeared in their uniforms to support the resolution. Many supports also held signs that read “Save Argo Pond.”
Susan Washabaugh, a teacher at Pioneer High School, said in her address to the council that rowers rely on Argo Pond as a practice venue.
The council’s final decision to table the issue left supporters of the resolution frustrated.
“I think it’s really unfortunate.” DeBoer said. “The council as we saw again last night is doing the public a real disservice by not addressing this issue head-on and making some decisions and directing city staff to take action.”
In her initial speech, Rubin had vied for tabling the resolution until further information is obtained and more investigations are conducted.
“I was very happy with the outcome,” Rubin said. “I think it was a premature decision to vote on Argo ‘dam-in’ or Argo ‘dam-out.’ I think there are many questions that the city staff has not answered in terms of if the dam were to stay or go how will some of these costs be funded, where will they come out of, what are the options for recreation, what are options for rowing and what are the environmental benefits.”
For now, the resolution to maintain Argo Dam is still up in the air until City Council settles the issue. But many council members were pleased with the debate.
“Both sides have a clear vision,” Briere said. “They both have passion and they both have evidence to support their viewpoint.”