The Ann Arbor Chronicle » Environment it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Shelton to Hear Motions in FDD Case Sat, 23 Aug 2014 21:07:10 +0000 Dave Askins The footing drain disconnection lawsuit filed against the city of Ann Arbor in late February has taken several procedural turns over the last six months, with virtually no issues on the merits of the case yet resolved.

Abigail Elias, Stephen Postema, Irv Mermelstein.

From left: Assistant city attorney Abigail Elias, city attorney Stephen Postema and co-counsel for the plaintiffs Irvin Mermelstein. The photo is from the July 2, 2014 hearing on a preliminary injunction in the Yu v. Ann Arbor case, which judge Donald Shelton denied.

The latest procedural issues now appear set to be decided on Aug. 27, 2014 – judge Donald Shelton’s final motion day before his retirement.

The case involves a claim of unconstitutional takings – inverse condemnation. Plaintiffs in the case, Yu v. City of Ann Arbor, are three Ann Arbor residents who had their footing drains disconnected under the city FDD program.

The procedural issues that could be decided next week include a motion to disqualify the city attorney’s office from representing the city due to conflicts; a motion to sanction city attorneys for filing documents with statements that plaintiffs allege are not well-grounded in fact; and a motion to reassign the case to a judge other than Timothy Connors. All three motions were filed with the court on Wednesday, Aug. 20.

A dispute about whether those Aug. 20 filings were properly served upon the city is one of the issues Shelton could decide at the start of the hearing.

By way of background, the case was originally filed in the Washtenaw County 22nd circuit court and assigned to Shelton in late February. The city then removed the case to federal court. However, the plaintiffs moved for remand from the federal court back to the circuit court – a motion that was granted by judge Avern Cohn in late May.

When the case returned to the circuit court, plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, which was heard and denied by Shelton in early July. The city had filed a motion for summary disposition on June 9, which was originally scheduled for July 30. It was subsequently rescheduled by the city for Aug. 13, and then shifted by the city again to Sept. 18 – which is after Shelton’s scheduled retirement.

According to the court administrator’s office, the case will not officially be reassigned to a different judge until Sept. 2. However, when The Chronicle inquired with the 22nd circuit court’s central scheduling office, the staff indicated that the plan was to reassign all of Shelton’s civil cases to Connors. So the city’s paperwork scheduling of the Sept. 18 hearing specifies Connors as the judge.

Motion on Reassignment

The Sept. 18 hearing date on the city’s motion for summary disposition could change if Shelton grants the motion to reassign the case to a judge other than Connors.

The motion to reassign is based on the fact that attorney Mark Koroi is co-counsel for the plaintiffs. According to the brief in support of the motion to reassign the case away from Connors, Koroi has filed four Judicial Tenure Commission grievances against Connors, two of which have been upheld. Koroi’s brief also notes that he has engaged in “vigorous public advocacy against political candidacies of both Timothy Connors and his wife.”

The plaintiff’s brief notes that Michigan court rules stipulate that it is the challenged judge who must make an initial ruling on a motion for disqualification, so the motion to reassign is a proactive measure to eliminate the need to file a motion in front of Connors, which would asked that Connors disqualify himself. [Aug. 20, 2014 Yu v. City of Ann Arbor brief on reassignment]

The city’s response brief argues that the motion is actually a motion for disqualification, and as such the motion is premature and should be heard by Connors. The city also argues explicitly against the idea that Connors should be disqualified, noting that if political speech critical of a judge were adequate grounds for disqualification, then an attorney could engage in such speech specifically so that the attorney would never have to appear in front of that judge.

The city also argues that the brief in support of the motion to reassign doesn’t provide any evidence that Connors is aware of Koroi’s political advocacy or that Connors is actually biased against Koroi. [Aug. 22, 2014 Yu v. City of Ann Arbor response brief on reassignment]

Motion for Sanctions

A second motion filed on Aug. 20 for hearing on Aug. 27 is to sanction the city attorney’s office for filing papers that are “neither well-grounded in fact nor warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification or reversal of existing law.” The papers in question are the city’s brief in support of its motion for summary disposition. [June 9, 2014 Yu v. City of Ann Arbor brief on summary disposition]

Included in the plaintiffs’ claims asking for sanctions to be imposed are that some of the key arguments in the city’s motion for summary judgment are frivolous. Plaintiffs assert that the city’s argument that the plaintiffs’ complaint is time-barred is frivolous. The plaintiffs then argue that one of the city’s positions – that the plaintiffs’ federal claims should be dismissed – is crucially based on the city’s contention that the claims are time-barred.

The plaintiffs’ brief in support of sanctions also asserts that the city has mischaracterized the plaintiffs’ position, highlighting instances where the city states that the plaintiffs have “recognized” or “conceded” some key aspect of the city’s legal position. The plaintiffs argue that the plaintiffs have not recognized or conceded the things that the city claims in its brief. [Aug. 20, 2014 Yu v. City of Ann Arbor brief on sanctions]

For example, the city claims in its brief that [emphasis added]:

Plaintiffs recognize that they own the sump pumps they installed and that the sump pumps and footing drain system operate as an integral part of their houses; in other words that neither the city nor a third party owns anything located in their homes, occupies their properties, or has otherwise taken their properties.

The claim is presented in the “introduction” section of the city’s brief, a section of pleadings where recitations of uncontroversial fact are typically presented. The question of pump ownership and occupation of residents’ homes by the third party are central points of dispute in the case. The plaintiffs’ brief in support of sanctions argues that the citations by the city to the plaintiffs’ pleadings – in support of the claim of “recognition” – do not in fact support a claim of “recognition.”

Another claim by the city – presented in the “background facts” portion of its brief in support of summary disposition – is that [emphasis added]:

“Plaintiffs concede that Sec. 1.1 [the footing drain disconnection ordinance] was adopted by the City to address the public health, safety and welfare issues of sanitary sewer back-ups in basements and sanitary overflows.”

The portion of the plaintiffs’ brief cited by the city in making that characterization does not, according to the plaintiffs, provide any support for the city’s contention that a concession has been made. And elsewhere in the plaintiffs’ brief, they state [emphasis added]:

Upon information and belief, the Ordinance was not enacted in response to emergency conditions or some other imminent threat to public health, safety or welfare. Rather, the Ordinance was enacted by the City in order to facilitate a solution to long-standing and self-created conditions in the least expensive and/or most expedient way possible.

Based on the city’s descriptions of the plaintiffs’ statements, the plaintiffs contend that the city is distorting the record. From the plaintiffs’ brief in support of sanctions:

This level of mischaracterization goes beyond zealous advocacy: it is misleading and is unfair to both the Court and to the Plaintiffs, whose lawyers are forced to ferret out mischaracterizations and distortions of the record when they should be responding to a “fair presentation of the issues” by opposing counsel.

The city’s response to the plaintiffs’ brief in support of sanctions deals with the part involving plaintiffs’ frivolous legal arguments by arguing for the merit of those arguments.

In its brief opposing sanctions, the city responds to the plaintiffs’ contention that their statements have been misrepresented to the court by insisting that the city’s characterization is based on the plaintiffs’ recitation of facts – and an attachment to the complaint of the city’s written “homeowner’s package” for sump pump install-ees.

The city’s position appears to be that whatever factual claims and characterizations that are made in the “homeowner’s package” were recognized and represented to the court by the plaintiffs as true – by dint of the attachment of the “homeowner’s package” to the plaintiffs complaint as an exhibit. So the city is not analyzing the plaintiffs’ exhibit merely as a representation by the plaintiff as to what the city itself claims to be true (via public documents produced by the city), but also what the plaintiff is recognizing to be true. [Aug. 22, 2014 Yu v. City of Ann Arbor response brief on sanctions]

The city blames any misunderstanding on the plaintiffs, arguing that the plaintiffs wrote poorly worded filings. From the city’s response brief, opposing sanctions:

[T]he City has not mischaracterized Plaintiffs’ Complaint, but has simply analyzed it as written by Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs’ dissatisfaction with the City’s reading of their Complaint arises from Plaintiffs’ own failure to draft a well-pleaded Complaint.

Motion on Disqualification

A third motion filed by the plaintiffs for hearing on Aug. 27 is one that would disqualify assistant city attorney Abigail Elias, and thereby the city attorney’s office, from representing the city in this lawsuit. [Aug. 20, 2014 Yu v. City of Ann Arbor brief in support of disqualification]

The brief arguing for disqualification cites an email sent by plaintiffs’ counsel in early February notifying Elias that she would likely be called as a witness in the case:

I am advising that your non-privileged testimony and evidence will likely be required in connection with litigation over the FDDP, which is now in preparation for filing. The case will include a claim for inverse condemnation. You are a necessary witness on both liability and relief, which probably comes as no surprise.

The plaintiffs argue partly on grounds that they need to depose Elias as a reason to disqualify her as the city’s representation.

In its brief in opposition to the motion on disqualification, the city contends that there is no testimony that Elias is in a unique position to provide other than testimony that would be subject to the attorney-client privilege. [Aug. 22, 2014 Yu v. City of Ann Arbor brief opposing disqualification]

The city also contends that disqualification of its city attorneys would be prejudicial to the city, because “Ms. Elias has been involved with the FDD program since its inception 13 years ago. Her familiarity with and knowledge of the issues in this case from those years cannot be replicated easily or quickly.”


The next hearing is currently scheduled for Aug. 27 at 1:30 p.m. in front of judge Donald Shelton at the 22nd circuit courthouse, 101 E. Huron in downtown Ann Arbor.

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Sunday Funnies: Bezonki Sun, 01 Jun 2014 11:17:30 +0000 Alvey Jones

Local artist Alvey Jones is a partner in the WSG Gallery, at 306 S. Main in downtown Ann Arbor. The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our occasional features like Bezonki, which in turn help support a local artist. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!

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On Ann Arbor’s Energy Agenda: Carbon, Solar Mon, 26 Aug 2013 16:00:40 +0000 Dave Askins Two energy-related items will appear on the Ann Arbor city council’s post-holiday agenda next week.

solar panels ann arbor

From a recent application to Ann Arbor’s historic district commission to allow the addition of photovoltaic panels, possibly in conjunction with existing thermal panels. A resolution on the council’s agenda would direct city staff to work with DTE to develop a pilot program that would benefit people who, unlike this homeowner, don’t have solar access.

One of those items calls on the city’s employee retirement system to divest from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies.

The second resolution would direct the Ann Arbor city staff to work with DTE to develop a pilot program for a “community solar” project – an initiative that would allow a group of people or businesses to purchase shares in a solar energy system, not located at the site of their electric meter.

The items appear on the council’s tentative agenda for Sept. 3, 2013, which is shifted to Tuesday from its regular Monday slot due to the Labor Day holiday.

Both resolutions were sponsored by the city’s energy commission, a 13-member group with the responsibility of overseeing city policies and regulations on energy and to make recommendations to the city council.

Divestment from Fossil Fuel Companies

An energy commission resolution passed on July 9, 2013 recommended that the city council urge the city’s employee retirement system board to cease new investments in fossil fuel companies and to divest current investments in fossil fuel companies within five years. The resolution defines a “fossil fuel company” to be any of the top 100 coal companies or top 100 gas and oil extraction companies. The top three coal companies on the list are: Severstal JSC; Anglo American PLC; and BHP Billiton. The top three gas and oil companies on the list are: Lukoil Holdings; Exxon Mobil Corp.; and BP PLC.

The basic consideration of the resolution is the importance of the role that greenhouse gas emissions play in global warming. The resolution cites the city of Ann Arbor’s Climate Action Plan, which has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025 and 90% by 2050. The resolution warns that fossil fuel companies have enough fossil fuel reserves that, if burned, would release about 2,795 gigatons of CO2. That’s five times the amount that can be released without causing more than 2°C global warming, according to the resolution.

Responding to a query from The Ann Arbor Chronicle, chief financial officer Tom Crawford – who sits on the board of the employee retirement system in an ex officio capacity – indicated that it would be a challenge to identify the specific companies related to the retirement system’s investments. That’s because the retirement system’s trust fund has investments in indexes, funds, and funds of funds.

From the most recently available retirement system’s annual report, for the year ending June 30, 2012, the total net assets available for benefits stood at $399.7 million. The two largest categories of investment shown in that annual report are domestic equity ($156.5 million or 39%) and investment grade fixed income ($125 million or 31%).

The investment policy committee of the employee retirement system is scheduled to meet on Sept. 3, 2013 before the council votes on its resolution.

As of the spring of 2013, the city of Ann Arbor’s retirement system has about 650 active members and about 960 retirees or beneficiaries.

Community Solar Pilot

A second July 9, 2013 resolution approved by the energy commission recommended that the council direct city staff to work with DTE to develop a “community solar” pilot program, which would allow people to invest in a solar energy system, even if the energy that’s generated would be located off-site from their own electric meter.

The goal is to create a program that would assist the work of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association (GLREA), which has a grant to work statewide, investigating the feasibility of and constraints facing this collective approach to alternative energy generation. As an example of this approach, the resolution the council will be asked to consider cites the Cherryland Electric Cooperative in Traverse City.

The council’s resolution asks that details of a pilot program be ready for consideration by the Michigan Public Service Commission by March 31, 2014.

The goal of community solar is to allow people who don’t own the property where they live, or whose own property is shaded or poorly oriented for solar energy production, to support the production of solar energy.

Ann Arbor city energy coordinator programs associate Nate Geisler told The Chronicle that no specific locations for the installation of a solar facility have been pinpointed, but that will be part of the development of a community solar pilot program. Geisler will be the city staff member who would work with DTE on development of the pilot program, if the council approves the Sept. 3 resolution.

Interest in solar energy production in the Ann Arbor area could be measured by participation of 64 Ann Arbor homes and businesses in DTE’s SolarCurrents, which was a two-year program (ending in May 2011) that offered incentives for installing solar photovoltaic panels. The program provided rebates of $2.40 per watt of installed solar photovoltaic power and payments for every kilowatt hour produced.

Among the participants in the SolarCurrents program was Matt Grocoff, whose net-zero home on Seventh Street has received a fair amount of publicity. Grocoff told The Chronicle that the price of installing solar energy has dropped from the time he renovated his historic house – from about $7 per installed watt to about $3.30.

Interest in pursuing photovoltaic solar energy generation on residential rooftops continues to be an option, even in Ann Arbor’s historic districts – as Ann Arbor resident Bob Kuehne submitted an application last week (on Aug. 23, 2013) for such an installation. Kuehne’s application indicates that one option he’s considering is to remove two existing thermal panels in favor of installing photovoltaic panels over the entire roof. The house stands in the Old West Side historic district.

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Greenbelt Commission Elects New Leaders Sat, 13 Jul 2013 19:13:47 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (July 11, 2013): GAC’s first meeting of the fiscal year was relatively brief, lasting less than an hour – including about 35 minutes in closed session to discuss possible land acquisition.

Jennifer Fike, Archer Christian, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commissioners Jennifer Fike and Archer Christian. Fike was attending her first meeting as a GAC member. (Photos by the writer.)

It was the first meeting for the newest commissioner, Jennifer Fike, who replaced Laura Rubin. The last meeting for long-time commissioners Rubin, Dan Ezekiel and Tom Bloomer was on June 6, 2013. Jean Cares, owner of the Dexter Mill, was nominated at the Ann Arbor city council’s July 1 meeting to replace Bloomer, with a confirmation vote expected by the council on July 15.

Also on July 15, John Ramsburgh’s name is expected to be put forward to replace Ezekiel, with a confirmation vote on Aug. 8. If those two appointments go through, all seats on the greenbelt advisory commission would be filled.

Commissioners elected new officers on July 11, unanimously voting for Catherine Riseng as chair and Shannon Brines as vice chair. Both work at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources & Environment. Riseng, an aquatic ecologist, is a research program manager at SNRE, while Brines is manager of SNRE’s environmental spatial analysis (ESA) lab. Brines also runs Brines Farm near Dexter.

At their July 11 meeting, commissioners also received news about the city’s 2013 application to the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP). The city is receiving grants totaling about $220,000 for land preservation of two properties in Lodi Township: (1) a portion of the Donald Drake farm along Waters Road; and (2) the Carol Schumacher farm along Pleasant Lake Road.

Officer Elections, New Commissioners

Officer elections for chair and vice chair of the greenbelt advisory commission are scheduled for the first meeting of the city’s new fiscal year, which began July 1. GAC’s vice chair, Catherine Riseng, was absent from the July 11 meeting but had indicated an interest in serving as chair. Former chair Dan Ezekiel was term limited, and his last meeting was in June.

Shannon Brines, who chaired the July 11 meeting in Riseng’s absence, joked about nominating himself for vice chair but was subsequently nominated by Jennifer Fike for that position.

There were no other nominations.

Outcome: On separate unanimous voice votes, Catherine Riseng and Shannon Brines were elected chair and vice chair, respectively.

Fike, the finance director of the Huron River Watershed Council, attended her first meeting as commissioner since being confirmed by the city council on June 3, 2013. She replaces Laura Rubin, HRWC’s executive director. There are two additional openings: for a farmer to replace Tom Bloomer, and for a general public position to replace Ezekiel. Bloomer, Ezekiel and Rubin were all term limited, with terms ending on June 30.

During GAC’s June 6 meeting, Bloomer had indicated that he had submitted a name for consideration to fill the farmer position.

Shannon Brines, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The An Arbor Chronicle

Shannon Brines was elected vice chair of GAC, and chaired the commission’s July 11 meeting.

Subsequently, Jean Cares was nominated at the city council’s July 1 meeting to replace Bloomer, with a confirmation vote expected by the council on July 15. Cares owns the Dexter Mill, and serves with Bloomer on the Webster Township farmland and open space board.

On July 11, Christopher Taylor – who serves on the Ann Arbor city council and is the council’s representative on GAC – reported that John Ramsburgh’s name will be put forward at the council’s July 15 meeting to replace Ezekiel, with a confirmation vote expected on Aug. 8.

Ramsburgh is a development officer with the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science & the Arts. He also is the son of Ellen Ramsburgh, a long-time member of the Ann Arbor historic district commission, and its former chair.

Nominations for service on most city boards and commissions are made by the mayor. However, nominations for service on the greenbelt advisory commission are made by the council.

Manager’s Report

Ginny Trocchio, who provides staff support to the greenbelt program, reported that the city finally received word about the status of a 2013 application to the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP). The city is receiving grants totaling about $220,000 for two properties in Lodi Township: (1) a portion of the Donald Drake farm – 72 acres along Waters Road; and (2) the Carol Schumacher farm – about 100 acres along Pleasant Lake Road.

The city council will be asked to accept these grants at its Aug. 8 meeting, followed by formal recommendations for the actual purchase of development rights later this year. Trocchio hopes to close the deals by the end of 2013.

Trocchio also noted that the greenbelt program will have a table at the Sept. 7 Homegrown Festival in Ann Arbor, and a tentative date of Sept. 21 has been set for the next greenbelt bus tour.

Land Acquisition

Most meetings of the greenbelt advisory commission include a closed session to discuss possible land acquisitions. The topic of land acquisition is one allowed as an exemption by the Michigan Open Meetings Act for a closed session. On July 11, commissioners met in a closed session that lasted about 35 minutes, then emerged and voted on two recommendations that will be forwarded to the city council.

Before appearing on the city council’s agenda, details of proposed greenbelt acquisitions are not made public. Parcels are identified only by their application number, with the first four numbers signifying the year in which the application was made.

On July 11, commissioners recommended that the city council amend a previous GAC recommendation regarding property identified in application number 2013-01. The amended recommendation is for the city to partner with Ann Arbor Township on that property and contribute up to $15,333 for the purchase of development rights – an estimated 33% of the purchase price – or to contribute up to $23,000 on the purchase of an easement, if Washtenaw County parks & recreation purchases the property outright.

The second resolution was to recommend that the city partner with Washtenaw County parks & recreation for the purchase of a deed title on a property identified by application number 2013-03 and contribute up to $32,200 toward the purchase price.

Outcome: In two separate votes, commissioners unanimously passed the resolutions. These items will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

Next meeting: Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 at 4:30 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date] The meetings are open to the public and include two opportunities for public commentary.

Present: Peter Allen, Shannon Brines, Stephanie Buttrey, Archer Christian, Jennifer Fike, Christopher Taylor. Staff: Ginny Trocchio.

Absent: Catherine Riseng.

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Ann Arbor Greenbelt Group Marks Transition Sun, 09 Jun 2013 14:18:40 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (June 6, 2013): Three long-time commissioners attended their final GAC meeting this month, marking a pivotal point in the history of the greenbelt program.

Laura Rubin, Archer Christian, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory board, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commissioners Laura Rubin and Archer Christian came to city hall by bike. This was the last meeting for Rubin, who is term limited. She and other outgoing commissioners Dan Ezekiel and Tom Bloomer were honored during GAC’s June 6 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Tom Bloomer, Dan Ezekiel and Laura Rubin, whose terms end this month, are term-limited. Ezekiel and Rubin are the only remaining members of the original commission, which was formed in 2004. “I’m just really, really proud of what we’ve accomplished, and of what you all will continue to accomplish,” Ezekiel, GAC’s chair, told commissioners at the end of the meeting. “I’m done being on the commission, but I’m not done with land preservation – and I’m sure Tom and Laura feel the same way.”

It was the first meeting for GAC’s newest commissioner, Stephanie Buttrey, who replaced Liz Rother. Jennifer Fike will join GAC next month to replace Rubin, but there are still two remaining vacancies. Anyone who’s interested in applying should contact their city council representative. [.pdf of application form for city boards and commissions]

An ongoing concern emerged during the June 6 meeting related to Civil War Days – a reenactment event being held this weekend at Gordon Hall in the Dexter area. A dispute over spectator parking on the land has prompted Scio Township trustees to move toward rescinding an existing conservation easement and replacing it with a new easement. The new easement would allow for parking, without a requirement to seek permission for parking each year. The property is owned by the Dexter Area Historical Society, a group that was sharply criticized by Bloomer. “Quite frankly, the Dexter Area Historical Society has been an untrustworthy partner from the very beginning,” he said, “and I don’t know why [the township board] thinks they’ll honor a new easement any more than they honored the old one.”

Although the land in question is outside of the greenbelt boundaries, it’s of interest to GAC because of the underlying issue of easement enforcement.

Commissioners were also briefed on a proposed greenbelt registry that’s being developed. The intent is create a way to formalize relationships with landowners who aren’t yet part of the greenbelt program, but who are committed to the program’s principles of land preservation.

Easement Enforcement: Civil War Days

Dan Ezekiel reported that he and Ginny Trocchio had been contacted in late May by the Scio Township land preservation commission, which was “in a bit of a crisis.” The land preservation commissioners were concerned about the conservation easement that Scio Township holds for land owned by the Dexter Area Historical Society (DAHS), where the historic Gordon Hall is located.

Webster greenbelt properties

The pink arrow marks the location of the Gordon Hall property, where Civil War Days is being held on June 7-9, 2013. Green blocks are properties protected in part through the city of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program. The green line with red dots is the Ann Arbor greenbelt program boundary for eligible properties. A portion of Webster Township is in the northwest corner of the greenbelt, with Scio Township to the south. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

By way of background, a “conservation easement” is a way for a municipality to preserve land without purchasing it or becoming the owner of the land. A conservation easement is a legally enforceable agreement – between a landowner and a government agency or a land trust – for the purpose of conservation.

Voters in several local municipalities – including the city of Ann Arbor, Webster Township and Scio Township – have approved millages to fund the purchase of development rights (PDR). PDR is a common mechanism for protecting undeveloped land by letting owners keep their property for farming or other specified uses but preventing its development. Development is prevented through a conservation easement.

A conservation easement restricts real estate development, commercial and industrial use, and certain other activities on a property to a level agreed to in the terms of the easement. In the case of the conservation easement on the Gordon Hall property, different parties have different perspectives on what’s allowed under terms of the easement.

Among land preservationists, it’s assumed that there might eventually be violations to terms of the easements. But if those violations happen, they’re more likely to occur when the property changes hands. So, as a part of every land preservation deal, Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program sets aside funds in an endowment, which will be used to cover expenses to monitor and enforce the greenbelt’s conservations easement – by legal action, if necessary.

In the case of the Gordon Hall property, both Scio and Webster townships hold conservation easements on the parcel, which has portions of the property in both townships. For the past two summers, the townships have allowed spectator parking there as part of the DAHS Civil Wars Days – even though land preservationists argue that parking conflicts with terms of the conservation easements. [See Chronicle coverage: "Webster Gives Ground for Civil War Days."] Parking is again allowed this year for the event, which is taking place June 7-9.

GAC commissioner Tom Bloomer – a Webster Township farmer who also serves on that township’s farmland and open space preservation board – had asked GAC to weigh in on the issue prior to last year’s Civil War Days. At GAC’s Jan. 5, 2012 meeting, commissioners passed a resolution encouraging Webster Township board to strictly enforce all of its conservation easements. [.pdf of Jan. 5, 2012 resolution]

Easement Enforcement: Civil War Days – Commission Discussion

At GAC’s June 6, 2013 meeting, Ezekiel noted that even though the land in question is outside of the greenbelt boundaries, it’s of interest because of the underlying issue of easement enforcement.

Dan Ezekiel, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Dan Ezekiel, chair of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission.

Each year, Ezekiel said, the historical society has promised to address the problem of parking, but it’s a problem again this year. The Scio Township board was set to pass a waiver to allow parking again on the property, he said, which is why the township’s land preservation commission alerted GAC. The land preservation commission was “really up in arms about this,” Ezekiel said, and wanted a GAC representative to talk to the township board about the importance of defending easements.

The township board met on May 28. Ezekiel and some members of the township’s land preservation commission spoke at the meeting. Ezekiel reported that his remarks focused on telling the board to be careful and not to allow exceptions to the easements, “because then everybody wants one, and you’ve set a precedent.”

According to Ezekiel, the township trustees indicated that they want to rescind the current agricultural conservation easement, and create a new historical easement instead. He said the board passed a resolution to set that in motion, directing their attorney to draft the new easement. The land preservation board members indicated that they could live with this approach, he said, adding that “it’s something we need to keep our eye on and find out what actually does happen out there.”

Bloomer was more critical of the move. “I think this is a huge disappointment and a step backwards,” he said. Pursuing a new easement is no different than changing the old easement. “Quite frankly, the Dexter Area Historical Society has been an untrustworthy partner from the very beginning,” Bloomer said, “and I don’t know why [the township board] thinks they’ll honor a new easement any more than they honored the old one.”

Bloomer said he realized that it was technically none of GAC’s business. But in the past, he noted, greenbelt commissioners have discussed that if any township doesn’t defend its easements, it’s appropriate for Ann Arbor not to partner with them in the future on deals where the township is the lead agency. “I think it’s important for us to take that stand,” he said.

Ezekiel agreed, and he hoped that greenbelt commissioners would continue to keep an eye on this issue, which “can potentially be dangerous for the greenbelt.” The important thing is who holds the easement, he said. The situation is a timely wake-up call for GAC, Ezekiel added – it’s lucky that the situation is occurring outside of the greenbelt boundaries, so that GAC can learn lessons from it without being directly affected.

Right now, Scio and Webster townships are involved, Ezekiel said. But no one knows who’ll be elected in any township, so GAC needs to think carefully about who holds the easements. There are also degrees of risk, he noted. On many easements, the federal government is involved, and the easement language in those situations is very firm. That’s a different situation from the easement with DAHS, he said.

Ezekiel reported that Scio Township supervisor Spaulding Clark had called the situation a mess that was inherited from the previous township board. But Clark doesn’t think the easement language would be defensible in court, according to Ezekiel. That was one reason that Clark wanted to draw up an entirely new easement.

Peter Allen described it as an unusual situation. The Gordon Hall property is not a typical farm, he said. It’s adjacent to the village of Dexter and has an historical house, with events like the Civil War reenactment. He didn’t think it was the kind of “protect-the-easement situation we might face in the future.”

Tom Bloomer, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Tom Bloomer, a Webster Township farmer and GAC member.

Bloomer disagreed. The easement with Scio Township is on agricultural land, he noted, while the Gordon Hall historical building is on the Webster Township portion of the property. “There is no historical aspect to the Scio Township portion,” he said. While some people might think the easement language isn’t defensible in court, Bloomer said, it uses the same language that all conservation easements used at the time it was drawn up. “To me, it seems very clear what the intent of that easement is, which is not to infringe upon the conservation values of the agricultural land. I think there’s only one way to read that – and that’s not parking.”

Ezekiel observed that DAHS had been “very happy to take the money at the time [of the easement deal], and they signed the paperwork and went into it with their eyes wide open, and now they are basically reneging.” It shows that an elected board is going to be very reluctant to tangle with someone who is politically powerful, he said, no matter how unpleasant that person is behaving. “It almost sometimes makes township boards look better if they tangle with big, bad old Ann Arbor instead of standing up to their own residents who are violating an easement that they themselves helped draw up, sign, and take money for,” Ezekiel said.

Ezekiel also noted that the Legacy Land Conservancy had secured a legal opinion on the easement, which determined that parking is prohibited under the easement.

Trocchio reported that when this issue initially arose, she reviewed all the easements in which the greenbelt program is involved. There are only two or three instances that don’t involve a federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) grant, she said. In those few instances, there are still multiple entities involved that provide multiple layers of protection. However, it’s something to keep an eye on in structuring these deals and partnerships in the future, she said.

Ezekiel said it was good to know that none of the current greenbelt easements are imperiled.

Greenbelt Registry

Commissioners had initially discussed the idea of a greenbelt registry at their April 4, 2013 meeting. On June 6, Ginny Trocchio – a Conservation Fund employee who provides staff support to the greenbelt program under contract with the city – gave an update on the project.

The concept of a greenbelt registry is laid out in the program’s strategic plan:

A land registry program is a listing of the properties that contain “special” natural features or has remained in farmland open space that landowners have voluntarily agreed to protect. This is an oral non-binding agreement between the City of Ann Arbor and the landowner. The landowner can end at any time, and the agreement does not affect the deed. The landowners agree to monitor and protect specific features of the property and notify the City if the landowner is planning on selling the property or if major threats have occurred.

The purpose of the land registry is to identify significant parcels of land and, through voluntary agreements with landowners, take the first step toward protection of the land’s natural resources. Furthermore, a land registry program recognizes landowners for protecting significant open space/natural features. Ultimately, these lands could be protected permanently through a conservation easement.

The landowner, by voluntarily agreeing to register their land, agrees to the following:

  • Protect the land to the best of their ability
  • Notify the City of Ann Arbor Greenbelt Staff of any significant changes they are planning or any natural changes that have occurred.
  • Notify the City of Ann Arbor Greenbelt Staff of any intent to sell the property.

Trocchio reported that she’d been working on this project with commissioner Shannon Brines. They first identified which landowners and areas of the greenbelt they’d like to target for participation in the registry. The intent is to contact owners of property that the commission’s strategic plan has identified as a priority, including people that have been contacted in the past but who haven’t yet applied to the greenbelt program or completed a transaction. Trocchio noted that this includes about 20 landowners covering just over 2,400 acres.

In addition, she said, the tentative plan calls for doing a “broader sweep” across the greenbelt, contacting landowners of property that fits the program’s priorities. Those priorities include protecting larger tracts of land – 40 acres or greater – with quality soils for agriculture, and proximity to protected properties. It’s also important to fill in gaps or make connections between existing greenbelt-protected properties, she said. Those gaps are concentrated in the townships of Northfield, Salem, Superior, and Lodi. A lot of larger properties in Scio Township that might fit the greenbelt’s priorities lie outside of the greenbelt boundaries, she noted.

Ginny Trocchio, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ginny Trocchio, who provides staff support for the greenbelt program.

Trocchio estimated that it might be possible to protect an additional 6,000 to 7,500 acres during the remainder of the 30-year greenbelt program, assuming a modest annual increase in property values of 3%-4%, as well as the ability to secure matching funds of 25%-50% for these land preservation deals. The registry is a way to move toward this goal.

In terms of implementing a registry, the first step would be outreach, Trocchio said, so that landowners know about it. She showed commissioners a rough draft for a brochure that summarizes aspects of the registry. [.pdf of registry brochure] Public forums would be held, as well as one-on-one meetings with landowners. Trocchio reported that she’s met with several landowners over the past 6-9 months who decided that now isn’t the right time to participate in the greenbelt program, but they might be interested in a registry, she said.

Even though the registry would be a non-binding agreement, Trocchio explained, it’s important to ensure that the greenbelt advisory commission is kept apprised of it. One option is to develop a brief application, including property information and landowner contact information. Staff would review those applications and evaluate how the properties fit within the greenbelt program’s current scoring system, then bring that information to GAC. Trocchio said she’ll be working with the city administrator, Steve Powers, as well as councilmember Christopher Taylor – who serves on GAC – about the best way to inform the city council about this registry.

After landowners are enrolled in the registry, they’ll receive a framed aerial image of their property to thank them for being good stewards of the land and for keeping the land in open space and farmland. Trocchio would be compiling a database of landowners, and would contact the landowners if there are properties near them that become part of the greenbelt program. She’d also inform them of any greenbelt-related events, and would plan to meet with them at least once a year to touch base.

One question that she and Brines had for the full commission: Should landowners who participate in the registry get points for that, when they apply to have their land protected by the greenbelt program? That approach would give the landowners a bump up in priority, compared to non-registry parcels, she noted.

Greenbelt Registry: Commission Discussion

Several commissioners praised the registry. “This is fantastic,” said Peter Allen. “I think this will really open some doors for us.” He clarified with Trocchio that the plan would be to mail brochures to targeted landowners. He wondered whether the mailing would include a map showing the landowner’s specific property, in relation to land that’s already protected by the greenbelt program. Trocchio explained that the brochure will include a map showing protected properties, but it won’t be customized for each landowner. She felt the map would have sufficient detail – and that landowners would be familiar with the area – so that they could discern their land’s relationship to greenbelt properties.

Allen suggested including Trocchio’s name and picture in the brochure, along with her contact information. “To see a face will maybe get them to call you,” he said. Including a link to the greenbelt program’s website would also be helpful. He assumed that landowners would want to do some research before contacting Trocchio.

Allen also urged Trocchio to be more proactive about contacting landowners, rather than relying on a mailing and public meetings – especially for farmers with important parcels. He asked commissioner Tom Bloomer, a farmer from Webster Township, whether such an approach would be too pushy.

“Everyone’s an individual,” Bloomer replied, adding that in general, no single effort will yield results. Some landowners don’t want their neighbors to know what they’re doing, he noted, so they might not come to a public meeting. He recalled that some of the greenbelt program’s best acquisitions have come from people who didn’t attend public forums.

Shannon Brines, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Greenbelt advisory commissioner Shannon Brines of Brines Farm in Webster Township, north of Dexter.

Bloomer said that reaching out in a variety of ways was important, but Trocchio shouldn’t be too aggressive – or landowners will feel targeted. Most people know that the greenbelt program exists, he added, and if they’re interested, they know how to contact Trocchio. “So I wouldn’t push too hard.” Sending out a mailing is fine, he said, but he’s on the fence about whether Trocchio should ask for one-on-one meetings. It depends on the landowner, he said.

Allen suggested the strategy of working with attorneys, accountants and other representatives of landowners – it’s another possible avenue of outreach to consider, he said. Bloomer replied that the initiative should come from the landowner.

Archer Christian asked if there would be a way to publicly honor the registrants. Trocchio said she’d need to talk to the city attorney’s office about whether registered properties could be included in the greenbelt maps. Christian thought perhaps recognition could be given at a greenbelt event.

Christian also wondered if Trocchio was planning to partner with townships in the public forums. How much had Trocchio communicated with township officials about the registry program? Trocchio replied that she hasn’t talked at length with township officials, since the details of the registry are still being worked out. The public forums would likely be held at township halls, she noted, so the townships would certainly be informed.

Catherine Riseng wondered how the greenbelt advisory commission would be involved. Would it be similar to the greenbelt program’s land acquisition process, where proposed properties are presented to GAC for review? It’s still unclear how that would work, Trocchio replied. She said she’d keep the commission up to date about who is applying. If the intent is that these properties might become part of the greenbelt in the future, she added, then it’s important that the properties in the registry meet the greenbelt program’s priorities.

Bloomer noted that Trocchio had asked for feedback about whether to award points to registry participants, if they later apply for the greenbelt program. He thought that awarding points has merit, “as long as it’s not too much.” Awarding points would be a way for landowners to see a real benefit to participating in the registry and maintaining contact with the staff, he said.

Dan Ezekiel described the registry as a best next step for the greenbelt program.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Manager’s Report

Ginny Trocchio, who provides staff support to the greenbelt program, reported that there’s still no word about the status of a 2013 application to the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP). The application is for grants totaling about $202,000 for two properties covering 169 acres.

She also noted that the greenbelt program will have a table at the Sept. 7 Homegrown Festival in Ann Arbor.

Land Acquisition

Most meetings of the greenbelt advisory commission include a closed session to discuss possible land acquisitions. The topic of land acquisition is one allowed as an exemption by the Michigan Open Meetings Act for a closed session. On June 6, commissioners met in a closed session that lasted about 30 minutes, then emerged and voted on a recommendation that will be forwarded to the city council.

Before appearing on the city council’s agenda, details of proposed greenbelt acquisitions are not made public. Parcels are identified only by their application number, with the first four numbers signifying the year in which the application was made.

On June 6, commissioners recommended that the city council move forward on the purchase of development rights on parcels identified as application number 2013-02 and 2011-13, if federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) funds are received.

Outcome: Without discussion, commissioners unanimously passed the resolution.

Commission Transitions

The June 6 meeting concluded with farewells to three long-time greenbelt advisory commissioners: Tom Bloomer, Dan Ezekiel and Laura Rubin. Their terms end this month, and because they are term-limited they can’t be reappointed. To mark the occasion, commissioners were served pie – pecan and chess – during their closed session.

Catherine Riseng, Dan Ezekiel, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

GAC vice chair Catherine Riseng congratulates Dan Ezekiel, the outgoing chair, for his service.

The outgoing commissioners were also formally honored at the end of their meeting. Ezekiel, who serves as GAC’s chair, noted that the transition is historic because he and Rubin are the only remaining members of the original commission, which was formed in 2004.

Ezekiel first presented a plaque to Bloomer, saying that his expertise about farming had been invaluable. Bloomer, who owns Bur Oaks Farm in Webster Township, recalled that when Mike Garfield left GAC last year, Garfield had commented that this was one of the few endeavors he’d been involved with that went exactly as he thought it should. “I echo that,” Bloomer said. “This has been about as successful as I’d expect a program to be. I’m really grateful to have been a part of it.”

Ezekiel then gave a plaque to Rubin, noting that she had provided leadership as GAC chair for three years of her nine-year service. Rubin said she’d enjoyed serving on GAC in part because it’s been such an effective commission. The last couple of years have been particularly rewarding, she said, because she’s been able to see earlier plans come to fruition. “Especially that first year, we really struggled with ‘What did we pass?’” Rubin said, referring to the 2003 voter-approved open space and parkland preservation millage. “What was the expectation from the public in terms of farmland and open space and anti-sprawl – all the issues that were wrapped up with the greenbelt initiative?” She was proud of how far it’s come.

Catherine Riseng, GAC’s vice chair, presented Ezekiel with a plaque in honor of his nine years on the commission. Ezekiel echoed the remarks of Bloomer and Rubin, saying he felt that the commission’s collective decisions were better than what any one person could have decided. He said Rubin, Garfield and Jennifer Santi Hall had led the commission with wisdom and integrity when they served as chairs, and that he had tried to walk in their footsteps. He felt that Riseng would continue that same vision and leadership.

Ann Arbor voters acted wisely and presciently in approving the parks and greenbelt millage in 2003, Ezekiel said, and it had been a bold leap. Ann Arbor was the first community to levy a tax to protect open space and farmland outside the actual boundaries of the community, he said. Since then, there’s been a lot of progress to convert the greenbelt dream into reality. “It’s been a really interesting and exciting journey.”

The greenbelt in fine shape, Ezekiel said. Over 4,000 acres of farmland and open space have been preserved within an hour’s bike ride of downtown Ann Arbor. Matching funds from many sources have leveraged Ann Arbor’s taxpayer dollars, and three local townships – as well as Washtenaw County – have land preservation millages, too.

The registry is a logical next step to bring more properties into the pipeline, Ezekiel said. He thanked Ginny Trocchio and Peg Kohring of The Conservation Fund for their competence and professionalism, saying they are trusted by the greenbelt stakeholders. He praised the city council for expanding the greenbelt boundaries twice, and cited the program’s robust endowment that will help support the defense against easement violations in the future.

Peter Allen, Tom Bloomer, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Greenbelt advisory commissioners Peter Allen and Tom Bloomer, who is removing his commemorative plaque from its plastic sheath.

Even though no one predicted it, Ezekiel said, the greenbelt program was well-positioned – because of its dedicated funding source and staff – to take advantage of the drop in land values. No one could have predicted how the past nine years turned out, he said, and the next nine years will probably be just as unpredictable. But Ezekiel was quite optimistic that people will look back on the GAC’s work and say it was wise to have protected the greenbelt’s open space and farmland.

“I’m just really really proud of what we’ve accomplished, and of what you all will continue to accomplish,” Ezekiel concluded. “I’m done being on the commission, but I’m not done with land preservation – and I’m sure Tom and Laura feel the same way.”

The outgoing commissioners received a round of applause.

Riseng told her fellow commissioners that she felt quite anxious: “We’re losing our brain trust.” She thanked the three commissioners for their work in laying such a strong foundation for the greenbelt program.

Assuming that GAC follows its custom, Riseng, as vice chair, will likely become GAC chair when the commission elects officers at its July 11 meeting.

Jennifer Fike, the finance director of the Huron River Watershed Council, was confirmed by the city council on June 3, 2013 to replace Rubin – HRWC’s executive director – on GAC. There are two additional openings: for a farmer to replace Bloomer, and for a general public position to replace Ezekiel. During the June 6 meeting, Bloomer indicated that he had submitted a name for consideration to fill the farmer position, but Trocchio said no one has applied. Bloomer said he’d tell the interested party that she would need to submit a formal application.

Anyone who’s interested in applying should contact their city council representative. [.pdf of application form for city boards and commissions] Meetings for the commission are scheduled monthly, typically on the first Thursday of the month.

Next meeting: Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 4:30 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date] The meetings are open to the public and include two opportunities for public commentary.

Present: Peter Allen, Tom Bloomer, Shannon Brines, Stephanie Buttrey, Archer Christian, Dan Ezekiel, Catherine Riseng, Laura Rubin. Staff: Ginny Trocchio.

Absent: Christopher Taylor.

The Chronicle survives in part through regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of publicly-funded entities like the city’s greenbelt program. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.

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County Gets Info on Flooding, Shares Options Wed, 20 Mar 2013 15:12:56 +0000 Dave Askins A meeting last week at Lawton Elementary School, in southwest Ann Arbor, fell the day before the one-year anniversary of significant overland flooding in the neighborhood. The flooding resulted from heavy rains last year on March 15, 2012. Last week’s meeting followed an earlier one held on Jan. 29, 2013.

Ann Arbor city storm drain in action. (Chronicle file photo)

Ann Arbor city storm drain in action. (Chronicle file photo)

The meetings are part of a study of the Upper Malletts Creek watershed, being conducted by the office of the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner under an agreement with the city of Ann Arbor. The year-long study is supposed to culminate in a final report due to the Ann Arbor city council in February 2014. Water resources commissioner Evan Pratt was on hand at the meeting, along with other members of the project team.

In response to direction from a citizens advisory group that’s been formed for the project, the team used the March 14 meeting to introduce residents to the basic toolkit for stormwater management techniques. The general stormwater management practices described at the meeting – without trying to analyze which solutions might be appropriate for specific locations in the area – ranged from increasing the number of catch basins in streets to the construction of underground detention facilities.

At least 60 residents attended the meeting, and seemed generally receptive to the idea that some money might actually be spent on infrastructure projects to reduce flooding in their neighborhood: “If you want me to sign up for you breaking up my street and putting [stormwater management infrastructure] in there, just give me a consent form and I will sign it tonight!”

The project team is also still in a phase of gathering information about specific experiences that residents have had with past flooding problems. And the same technology platform – an online mapping tool – can be used by residents for logging future flooding events. For help in using a smart-phone app, one attendee volunteered her grandson “for rent” to other residents. Members of the project team also indicated they welcomed information submitted in any format – including letters, face-to-face conversation and phone calls.

But it was a missing follow-up phone call – expected from one resident who’d attended the first meeting on Jan. 29 – that indicated some continuing frustration about the city’s footing drain disconnection (FDD) program. The frustrated resident’s experience had been that after an FDD program sump pump was installed in his basement, he’d started having problems with a wet basement – problems he hadn’t experienced before. Project manager Harry Sheehan, with the county water resources commissioner’s office, extended an apology for the missed communication and an offer to arrange a site visit.

The FDD program removes a building’s footing drain connection to the sanitary sewer system and redirects that stormwater flow to the system designed to handle it – the stormwater system. The FDD program, which has been somewhat controversial, is not the focus of the Upper Malletts Creek study. But residents got an assurance that the additional volume of rainwater that goes into the stormwater system – as a result of the FDD program – would be accounted for in all the modeling that’s done as part of this study.

Meeting Overview, Context

This report begins with a legislative overview, and a summary of the introductory remarks from the March 14, 2013 meeting.

Overview: Precipitating Events, Funding

An arrangement for the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner to study the Upper Malletts Creek area was authorized by the Ann Arbor city council at its Oct. 15, 2012 meeting. The $200,000 cost of the study is to be paid for with city funds already held by the county water resources commissioner’s office.

The area to be studied, outlined in the agreement between the city and the water resources commissioner, included “the Malletts Creek Drain Drainage District in the Churchill Downs and Lansdowne sub-watershed areas.” Potential improvements mentioned in the agreement include detention, pipe upsizing, and green infrastructure.

Negotiations on that agreement with the water resources commissioner stemmed from a council resolution approved at its Aug. 9, 2012 meeting. That resolution directed city staff to start negotiations with the county to conduct the study.

The staff memo accompanying the council’s Oct. 15, 2012 resolution mentioned the heavy rains on March 15, 2012, which resulted in street flooding in that part of the city. The city council heard complaints from the public at its meetings after the flooding. A map of historical flooding in the city – obtained by The Chronicle through appeal of an initially-denied request made under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act – shows that respondents to a survey conducted in the mid-1990s reported they’d experienced street flooding in the same areas that the flooding occurred in the spring of 2012.

Residents at the March 14, 2013 meeting wanted to know how big the March 15, 2012 storm was – from an historical perspective. They noted that on Scio Church Road there was water running through the yard, which hadn’t happened in the previous 20 years.

Ron Hansen, a Spicer Group engineer who’s working on the project, said that given the magnitude of the flooding, it was a very historic event. For many people, it was the most significant flooding they’d ever seen. But he’d heard from other people who said they’d had numerous floods over the last 20-30 years. The rainfall amount on March 15, 2012 was in the range of 1.7 or 1.8 inches in a two-hour period, Hansen reported. That doesn’t mean that the intensity over every house was the same as the intensity measured by the rain gauges, he allowed. And it was in the springtime, when the ground doesn’t absorb as much water – so you get more runoff.

Some frustration about the number of studies that have been done over the years was expressed at the March 14 meeting. And water resources commissioner Evan Pratt led off his introductory remarks at the meeting with an acknowledgment of that sentiment, noting that some attendees might be thinking, “Oh no, another study!”

Overview: March 14, 2013 Meeting Intro

Pratt asked for a show of hands of the roughly 60 residents in attendance – for those who’d attended the Jan. 29 meeting. From that he concluded that there were enough new attendees that it would be worth reviewing some of the information presented at that meeting.

He told the residents that they were in the right place if they wanted to stay engaged and help the project team work toward figuring out some real improvements that could be made so they didn’t have the same problems that they’d experienced last year on March 15, 2012, when there was so much flooding in the streets and in the yards.

Evan Pratt, Washtenaw County water resources commissioner

Evan Pratt, Washtenaw County water resources commissioner.

Pratt allowed that he’d only been water resources commissioner for a few months, but told the group that he had been working on residential flooding issues for about 25 years. [Pratt was elected in November 2012 and took office at the start of 2013.]

One thing he’s learned in that experience, Pratt said, is that the residents at the meeting still know more than he and the consultants do about the problems in their neighborhood. His team is still trying to understand where the problems were and how bad they were on March 15, 2012. He ventured that they had a pretty good handle on it from previous data collected, supplemented by information collected at the Jan. 29 meeting – but the project team is still collecting information. He also offered to arrange that evening to visit anyone’s property if that’s what they wanted.

He ventured that those in attendance would like to head home and say, “Man, we’re done! I understand exactly how everything’s going to get fixed and there’ll never be water in the yard or in the street!” That’s not something he could promise that night, or at the end of the study, he allowed. But the project team would figure out some positive solutions so that if it rains again like it did a year before, residents wouldn’t see the same severity of the problem.

Besides Pratt, other members of the project team introduced at the start of the meeting included employees of the Spicer Group, the engineering consulting firm hired for the study: Ron Hansen, a professional engineer and surveyor; Tim Inman, who works with GIS mapping; and Steve Roznowski, a design engineer.

Handling communications, website and media work on the project are Josh Hovey, a vice president of Truscott Rossman and Lauren Zdeba, an account executive with the same firm. Hovey noted that the location of the meeting, Lawton Elementary, was Zdeba’s old elementary school – so she’d grown up in the neighborhood. [Responding to a query from The Chronicle about the school's mascot, Zdeba confirmed it was the Lawton Leopards. "Our rivals were the Dicken Dolphins!" she said, referring to the elementary school in the neighborhood just to the north.]

Project manager for the Upper Mallets Creek study is Harry Sheehan, with the water resources commissioner’s office. Also on hand at the meeting were city of Ann Arbor employees Cresson Slotten and Jennifer Lawson. Slotten is an engineer and manager of the city’s systems planning department, while Lawson is water resources manager with the city.

In his remarks toward the start of the meeting, Sheehan said the goal of the project is to manage stormwater better and reduce flooding: ” … essentially what we’re looking to do is take a look at what happened on March 15, 2012 and provide solutions to make the effects of that storm much more manageable.”

Overview: Stormwater Management Toolkit

Ron Hansen, engineer with the Spicer Group, described how the goal of the engineering study is to develop a recommended plan that could be implemented to reduce the probability of flooding.

Ron Hansen

Ron Hansen with the Spicer Group.

The study would eventually identify the estimated cost of the recommended actions and weigh that against the benefit, he said. “It would nice to say we’re going to build a system that is so big that it’ll never flood again, but the reality of it is that would be cost prohibitive. When it comes to rainfall, there’s always the bigger and badder storm.” There’s always a chance of flooding, he said.

He also stressed that the solutions to be recommended should not adversely impact downstream property owners. The goal is not to push the problem downstream, but rather to manage the water within the study area, so that the flooding problems within the study area could be addressed without creating new problems downstream.

The goals are also to implement solutions that maintain or improve water quality, he said. Some of the solutions, he continued, would involve “hard engineering” approaches like installing new pipes. Other approaches are “softer” – such as installing rain gardens and infiltration-based systems. The key is to maintain and enhance water quality, he said. The recommendation should also be sustainable for the longer term – which means that it should be low maintenance.

Hansen then walked the March 14 attendees through a range of options for stormwater infrastructure:

  • catchbasin enhancements
  • street maintenance
  • clean/repair existing drainage infrastructure
  • enhance/modify existing detention management
  • construct new surface stormwater detention
  • construct new underground stormwater detention
  • upsize/enhance storm sewer capacity
  • bio-retention/rain gardens

He noted that they’d begin with low-cost options, like evaluating catch basins in streets, allowing that these might have a low impact as well.

He also described high-cost options like building underground detention facilities – which he described as big underground concrete boxes – or tearing up streets and backyards. He thought it was likely that some of that type of work might be called for, but the question is where to implement those solutions. And the location and type of facility would depend on the outcome of the engineering analysis and modeling of the study.

Along with the “hard engineering” approaches, Hansen indicated that “softer” approaches – like rain gardens – would be included in the options as well. Softer approaches would be included more than likely in addition to, not instead of, some of the harder engineering approaches, he said.  He drew laughs from the audience when he said: “My gut feeling is you can’t solve this problem with rain gardens.”

Geographic Area of the Study

Harry Sheehan oriented the audience to the area of the study – the northwestern portion of Mallets Creek. He pointed out how I-94 crosses through the area of study. He ventured that most of the attendees at the meeting that night were probably from the city of Ann Arbor, but pointed out that the Mallets Creek watershed, and the area of the study, goes quite a ways past I-94, into the townships. It reaches all the way to The Uplands, he said, west of I-94 and up toward Stadium Boulevard, and in the upper righthand corner of the study area is part of the Pioneer High School property.

Malletts Creek smart map for study area

Malletts Creek “smart map” showing the study area.

The blue line is Mallets Creek, Sheehan said. Describing Malletts heading upstream (from east to west), Sheehan note that at Landsdowne the creek is open water. But after it crosses 7th Street, it’s a piped system – continuing between Moorhead and Delaware, and across Churchill. It then makes a bend and goes through some backyards on the other side of Churchill Downs near Steeplechase, then goes through Churchill Downs Park. That’s where it opens up, he explained. There are two tributaries that split up in Churchill Downs Park – one of them goes north and one of them goes west, down by the Ice Cube and the Pittsfield branch of the Ann Arbor District Library.

Within the study area, the project team has mapped out areas of known flooding, based on previous information, but also based on information gathered at the first meeting on Jan. 29, Sheehan said.

He pointed out that while there had clearly been problems in the southeastern portion of the study area, that was not the only location.

Sheehan also pointed to problems that had been logged on Chaucer Court and up by the service drive on Scio Church Road. There were clearly a lot of locations to look at, he said.

All the red dots on the “smart map” reflect problems reported to the project team at the Jan. 29 meeting, he said. That first public meeting on Jan. 29 was spent primarily collecting that kind of information from residents who attended, Sheehan said. The information would be used to create a model that accurately represents the events of March 15, 2012, and that can be manipulated to model solutions to managing the stormwater.

From the audience came a request that Sheehan define “flooding” – as it was including in the annotations on the map where problems had been identified. As a definition of flooding for the purposes of the study, Sheehan offered: “If the piped system is overwhelmed or surcharged, and the water exits the piped system onto the street and the yards, or if … the water is not able to get into the system.”

By way of additional background, the Washtenaw County online GIS mapping system includes a number of different layers, including aerial photography, topography, flood plains and drains. The following images derive at least in part from that system.

Study "smart map" overlayed on 1940 historical aerial photography.

Study “smart map” overlaid on 1940 historical aerial photography. (Illustration by The Chronicle.)

Malletts Creek Topological Map

Malletts Creek topographical map.

Malletts Creek historical map

Malletts Creek historical map

Geographic Area: West of I-94, Detention Ponds

Ron Hansen responded to a question from a resident about the part of the study area that’s west of I-94. The resident wondered if the drainage from that area were eliminated, would it reduce the flooding in the triangle of Scio Church Road, Main Street and I-94?

Hansen said he didn’t have the exact answer to that. The resident gave some further background for his question, noting there’s not a lot of open land within the city limits to create stormwater detention facilities. Even if the school yard at Lawton Elementary were torn up, “that wouldn’t give you what you want,” he ventured. But on the other side of I-94 there’s a lot of open land, he said. He asked if the project team was considering underground detention or detention ponds for that area. On the opposite side of I-94 is one place where those kinds of projects could be undertaken, he felt. The resident ventured that imminent domain would have to be invoked for many of the possible sites, because they’re on private land.

Harry Sheehan allowed that if you remove water from the system or you delay its entry into the system, that will have an impact. So large-scale stormwater facilities and large-scale rain gardens – which is to say, wetlands – are something that could be contemplated in the area west of I-94. Whether eminent domain would have to be used wasn’t clear, he continued, pointing out that there is some public right-of-way and land that can be purchased. There are also some smaller pockets within the city boundary, he pointed out, such as the area just north of Churchill Downs up by Scio Church Road, where the open channel of the creek runs.

The audience member followed up by saying he was a big fan of detention ponds – because he lives next to one, which is bounded by Scio Church, 7th Street and Greenview. Most of the runoff in the neighborhood runs off into that detention pond, he said. During the dry season, the pond level is down and during the rainy season it’s up. The detention pond controls the water in his immediate neighborhood, so he felt the same solution would work in many others. Hansen added that detention could be feasible, but the concept of diverting or shutting the water off is not too feasible – because if you diverted the water coming from west of I-94, that would push it onto somebody else’s property.

Responding to a question about how many acre-feet of detention ponds would be required, Hansen said that’s one of the questions the project team is studying. The goal is eventually to be able to answer all the questions like that – but they wouldn’t be able to provide answers that evening. The final report on the project will be done in February 2014. It will take time to calculate the acre-feet. It’ll take time to identify where feasible stormwater detention facilities could be placed.

Right now the team is still partly in the information-gathering phase, Hansen explained. The team is also starting to do its modeling and monitoring work. After that is done, the team will begin the preliminary analysis phase. At that point they’ll be able to make statements like: If we put 20 acre-feet of detention at this location, here’s the level of service you’d get. That answer is still a few months in the future, he cautioned. He described five or six additional neighborhood meetings that would take place from now through February 2014.

Stormwater Improvements Funding

Residents at the March 14 meeting wanted to know if funding would be forthcoming and when it would be forthcoming.

Stormwater Improvements Funding: Utility Fees, CIP

Harry Sheehan indicated that the funding stream for the city of Ann Arbor is set by the stormwater utility rate that shows up in your water bill. His own stormwater utility bill is about $25 a quarter, he said. In the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP), Sheehan explained, the first two years are budgeted. The funding from the stormwater utility fee would come as projects are defined in connection with the Malletts Creek study and placed in the CIP over the course of the next few months. Within the CIP, projects are prioritized, he said, and those that are prioritized for the first two years of the CIP would be budgeted.

The number of projects that are programmed in the first two years of the CIP are those than can be afforded with funds from the current stormwater utility, Sheehan said. It’s been possible to double the amount of projects undertaken, because the city and county use the state’s revolving loan fund, and some grant money that goes along with that. A couple of projects that will include stormwater management components are already budgeted in the neighborhood within the current two-year CIP cycle: Scio Church Road from 7th to Main Street; and 7th Street from Scio Church Road to Greenview.

From the funding summary of the CIP [both projects are scheduled for funding in FY 2016]:

UT-ST-14-13 Scio Church Storm Sewer Improvements (Main to 7th) $750,000
UT-ST-14-22 S 7th (Greenview to Scio Church) $650,000

For other projects, Sheehan described how deeper soil borings can be done to find out exactly where the groundwater is, relative to the surface, and to locate any sand seams.

By way of additional background on groundwater, it’s measured on a regular basis at the Ann Arbor municipal airport. In the last 10 years, it’s shown a rising trend – something that factored into a recent discussion by the city’s park advisory commission on issues like the location of a tennis court in Windemere Park. Daily measurements from 1963 through 2012 are available on the USGS website. [Google Spreadsheet and interactive graph]

Groundwater levels measured at Ann Arbor municipal airport since 1963

Groundwater levels measured at Ann Arbor municipal airport since 1963.

Sheehan described collecting video data from the storm sewers and capturing flow data, so it can be determined how much water needs to be stored at different locations throughout the neighborhood.

Stormwater Improvements Funding: Street Projects

Earlier in the meeting, Sheehan had pointed out that the road right-of-way represents an opportunity for stormwater management. Streets have a useful life, and when they have to be reconstructed, that’s a chance to increase the size of the detention and conveyance system underneath the street, he explained.

Harry Sheehan

Harry Sheehan, environmental manager with the Washtenaw County office of the water resources commissioner.

If that kind of stormwater improvement is part of a street reconstruction project, Sheehan explained, it can earn the project additional points in the priority rating system used in the city of Ann Arbor’s capital improvements plan (CIP). If a street needs to be reconstructed because the road surface needs to be replaced – which is typically why a street would be replaced, he noted – it will be placed in the CIP. But if there’s utility work that needs to be done as well, that accelerates the street project within the CIP.

Underneath the roadway, Sheehan said that improvements would be made by installing larger-sized pipes or underground storage – similar to what would ordinarily be found in porous pavement systems. If there’s water coming under the street from another neighborhood, you might not be able to store it all, he said, but you might be able to put in some swirl concentrators to remove some of the pollutants in the water. Those are the kinds of stormwater management systems that would be deployed under roadways.

Responding to a follow-up question from the audience, Sheehan described how anytime there is a street reconstruction project, the different components of the project are funded by their respective funds – street reconstruction, sanitary sewer work, drinking water and stormwater. Only the part of a street reconstruction project that can be associated with stormwater management is paid for out of the stormwater utility, Sheehan explained.

Stormwater Improvements Funding: Can Money Be Spent?

An additional follow-up question focused on the city policy for expenditures on stormwater improvements: Was it the case that money was not being spent on stormwater improvements in this part of town, because they were considered speculative investments – and for that reason they weren’t going to get done? The question was prompted by an Ann Arbor Chronicle report of a May 11, 2011 briefing that systems planning engineer Cresson Slotten had given the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s partnerships committee. In that briefing, Slotten had explained that the basic utility rates could not fund replacement of utility systems before they’d reached the end of their useful life – things like upsizing water mains to support future development.

Cresson Slotten

Cresson Slotten, manager of the city of Ann Arbor’s systems planning unit.

Sheehan gave an assurance that money is being spent every day on stormwater improvements. A project is being done right now on Traver Creek, he said. Four road projects are planned for this construction season in the city that have stormwater management components, he pointed out. It’s not accurate to say that money is not being spent on stormwater improvements, Sheehan said.

The response from the questioner was that it’s music to his ears to hear that stormwater utility money can actually be spent on stormwater improvements: “If you want me to sign up for you breaking up my street and putting something in there, just give me a consent form and I will sign it tonight! You can put it in my backyard – you can put it anywhere you like!”

Stormwater Management Codes

At the March 14 meeting, Cresson Slotten – an engineer and manager of the city’s systems planning unit – was challenged by a resident to describe what the city has done to keep more rainwater from “washing down into this neighborhood.” The resident wanted to know: What have you done? What laws have you put in place?

Slotten explained that in terms of ordinances, rules and regulations, Chapter 63 of the city code is the part that deals with stormwater management. The chapter overall deals with soil erosion, Slotten explained, but a key piece of soil erosion is stormwater and stormwater management. He reported that the first piece of Chapter 63 was put in place in 1979, but since that time, it’s gone through a tremendous evolution. In the 26 years Slotten has worked for the city, he said, it’s been revised at least five times.

By way of illustration, Chapter 63 includes different requirements for on-site stormwater detention, depending on the amount of impervious surface in the project:

Sites proposed to contain:
(i) Impervious surfaces greater than 5,000 square feet and less than 10,000 square feet require retention/infiltration only of the first flush storm events.
(ii) Impervious surfaces equal to or greater than 10,000 square feet and less than 15,000 square feet require retention/infiltration only of the first flush and detention only of bankfull storm events.
(iii) Impervious surfaces equal to or greater than 15,000 square feet require retention/infiltration of the first flush, and detention of bankfull, and 100-year storm event. Detention facilities designed for the 100-year storm event shall include a sediment forebay.

Slotten explained that when a new project is proposed – a new office plaza or a new subdivision – the project must include the required stormwater management facilities to hold the water and to slow it down. To illustrate, he described a little neighborhood on the north side of Scio Church Road for which he’d done the stormwater review back in 1988 or 1989. It was a development with about a dozen single-family homes. A certain amount of stormwater detention was required on the site, he said. The amount of impervious surface was calculated – for the driveways, the roof area, and the little road. From that amount of surface, the required stormwater detention was calculated. Responding to a question from the audience, Slotten said it was not “just a guess” but rather had been calculated out by engineers.

Slotten also noted that in the townships, similar rules apply. Washtenaw County also has a set of stormwater regulations, he said, which the city has now adopted. The resident who’d prompted Slotten’s description of the regulations ventured: “These rules don’t work.” Slotten responded by saying that’s why they continue to evolve.

Footing Drain Disconnect (FDD) Program

From the audience at the March 14, 2013 meeting, some questions arose about the city of Ann Arbor’s footing drain disconnect program.

FDD Program: Background

The city of Ann Arbor has separate sanitary and stormwater conveyance systems.

Where rain goes

Where rain goes: 70% runs off, and 23% soaks in, becomes part of underground flows or is absorbed by vegetation. It’s the remaining 7% of the rainwater that causes a problem for the sanitary sewer system – because the sanitary system is not designed to handle that kind of volume. (Diagram from the city of Ann Arbor.)

However, during construction of new developments before 1980, footing drains – permeable pipes buried around the perimeter of a foundation, roughly at the depth of a basement floor – were frequently connected directly to the sanitary sewer pipes. Those connections were convenient to make, because the footing drains and the sanitary sewers are buried at roughly the same depth.

However, during very heavy rains, that configuration leads to a volume of stormwater flow into the sanitary sewer system that it’s not designed to handle. That can cause two problems.

First, near the point where the extra water is entering the sanitary system, it can cause raw sewage to back up through the floor drains of basements.

Second, farther downstream at the wastewater treatment plant, the amount of water flowing into the plant can exceed the plant’s capacity. That can result in only partially-treated wastewater being discharged into the Huron River.

It was wastewater discharges into the river that led the city to agree to an administrative consent order with the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to establish a way to offset the impact of new connections to the sanitary system required by new developments.

Footing drain disconnect (FDD) priority area in the southwest of the city. Other priority areas, where nearly all the disconnections have been completed, lies in the northeast part of the city.

Footing drain disconnect (FDD) priority area in the southwest of Ann Arbor. Other priority areas, where nearly all the disconnections have been completed, lie in the northeast part of the city. The area of study for the Upper Malletts Creek study overlaps a large part of the FDD priority area. (Diagram from the city of Ann Arbor.)

That program essentially requires developers who are building projects that place additional burdens on the sanitary sewer system to pay for a number of footing drain disconnections elsewhere in the city, according to a formula. A city council resolution from Aug. 18, 2003 authorized the consent order with the MDEQ.

The footing drain disconnect program was targeted initially in five neighborhoods that accounted for about half of all reported basement sewage backups.

Since implementation, 2,538 footing drains have been disconnected, including nearly all of the houses in three of the five neighborhoods. In the two other areas, between 55% and 60% of footing drains have been disconnected.

The city council decided on Sept. 17, 2012 to suspend temporarily the footing drain disconnect program.

And at its Feb. 4, 2013 meeting, the city council authorized a roughly $1 million study of Ann Arbor’s sanitary sewer flows – meant to assess the impact of the decade-long footing drain disconnect program. The point of the study is to see how well the FDD program has worked: Has it had more impact or less impact than expected? Have residents’ preferences changed with respect to how they’d like to see the issue addressed?

The decision to suspend the FDD program came in the context of complaints from residents in the area of the current Malletts Creek study – about overland flooding in spring of 2012 as well as earlier.

The FDD procedure includes the installation of a sump to collect water from the footing drains – which previously fed into the sanitary system – and a pump to move the water from the sump to the stormwater system. And in some cases, the pumps were reportedly not able to keep up with the influx into the footing drains. In other cases, the discharge of the pumps reportedly exacerbated the overland flooding.

FDD Program: Increased Challenge for Stormwater Management?

Responding to a question from the March 14 audience, Ron Hansen said the impact of FDD is being considered as part of the Upper Mallets Creek study. He couldn’t, at this point, say if the FDD program is impacting the stormwater system. He hoped to be able to provide more information at upcoming meetings.

Evan Pratt also responded to the question, saying that regardless of what you think of the FDD program, there’s a sense that if the stormwater pipe is already full, then the water volumes associated with the FDD program don’t really matter – whether it’s a small or large amount that’s being pulled out of the sanitary system and put into the stormwater system. If the pipe is already full, then all of that FDD amount – whatever it is – will not fit into the stormwater pipe, Pratt said. He assured the audience that the study would calculate the FDD amount, and the design of improvements would consider how much water is getting moved from the sanitary system into the stormwater system. “That will absolutely be considered,” he concluded.

Responding to a follow-up question, Pratt indicated his understanding was that the city of Ann Arbor had placed a moratorium on the FDD program. But he noted that a certain number of disconnections had already been done under the FDD program. Pratt said the project team would work hard with the citizens advisory committee to get a clear consensus on the calculated amount of additional FDD water that’s being pushed into the storm drain – over and above what comes off the surface runoff. The design improvements will need to account for that amount, too. Like Hansen, Pratt indicated that he couldn’t at this point say if it’s a huge number or a little number – but in general he didn’t feel like it was an amount that should overwhelm the system.

Related to that, Pratt noted that there was overland flooding in the area before the FDD program was implemented in the early 2000s. It’s the project team’s understanding that during heavy rains in 1971, for example, water flowed down Churchill and Wiltshire streets. But he allowed that the additional FDD flow into the stormwater system was a legitimate concern: If the pipes are full, then any amount of water makes the problem that much worse.

FDD Program: Developer Mitigation

Cresson Slotten of the city’s systems planning unit was called on by a resident in the audience to explain the FDD credit system for developer offset mitigation. Slotten responded by explaining the formula for the developer mitigation program. The formula requires that for every 1,000 gallons of additional sanitary sewer flow a new development might cause, that amount plus 20% – or 1,200 gallons – has to be mitigated by performing footing drain disconnection elsewhere in the city.

Although some dissatisfaction was expressed with the amount of detail provided about the credit system, the resident seemed content to leave the issue for another time.

FDD Program: No Follow-up Phone Call

One resident at the March 14 meeting expressed concern about his experience with the FDD program. Since an FDD sump pump had been installed, he said, his basement gets wet even with routine rainfall. He’d attended the Jan. 29 meeting, and talked to a number of people who’d assured him they’d make a follow-up call: “You know who I heard from? Nobody.”

Harry Sheehan recalled talking with the resident, saying that he’d spoken to the resident and to three other people. He’d wanted to get the resident’s address, to compare it to the database of complaints logged before the FDD program was started. That database goes back to the early 1950s.

Flooding complaint map

Flooding complaint map plotting data as far back as the 1950s. Each black dot is a complaint that was logged about water.

Sheehan said if he’d told the resident he’d follow up with a phone call, that was Sheehan’s error. He’d just wanted to see if there was a complaint prior to the FDD program for any of the four addresses that fit the category of apparently new wet basement problems arising after the FDD program. None of them had a history of prior complaints, Sheehan reported.

Sheehan also recalled talking to the resident about having an engineer come out to the resident’s property. If the resident still wanted to have an engineer come out, Sheehan still wanted to do that. Sheehan apologized for not making the follow-up connection. The resident responded: “You’re going to have a pretty big problem if you don’t call me and my basement floods. I’ve been struggling with this too long, and every meeting I come to I get madder and madder.”

Next Steps?

The project team described next steps, but residents were also interested in finding out if there’s anything they could do immediately to help improve the situation.

Next Steps: Immediate

Some residents wanted to know what could be done right now. Evan Pratt acknowledged that any projects that eventually could be implemented would not be started now, or even in February 2014, when the report was due. As he’d walked through some of the areas of the neighborhood, he’d thought that in some places maybe a big landscape berm could work, but he wasn’t really sure if that would be a good idea.

Harry Sheehan described the March 15, 2012 storm as a 10-year storm in engineering terms. And he said that as the days go by, this area is getting out of a window when rain might be falling on partially frozen and saturated ground. Still, residents wanted to know what they could to mitigate damage, if a similar storm were to strike this year.

Sheehan told residents there were a limited number of things that could be done. If a catch basin on the street is blocked, for example, that could be cleared. He told residents that if they weren’t able to do that themselves, to give his office a call.

Next Steps: Study Process

Sheehan described some of the next steps, including soil borings and flow monitoring, knocking on doors and collecting additional information.

Malletts Creek Study Timeframe

Upper Malletts Creek study timeframe.

Soil boring data, including groundwater levels, will be collected as soon as the weather warms up a bit, Sheehan said. The information collected to date will then be compiled into a draft alternatives analysis to put out to residents and the citizens advisory committee. “It will be rough, but it will be more spelled out than what you’re seeing here, which is just categorical management practices.”

More numbers will be crunched based on reaction to that draft analysis. At that point, a revised draft will be created that will be roughly 90% complete. That version will include some associated costs and expected impact of the improvements. Another public meeting will take place to discuss that draft, he said. After that, a draft of the final report will be made and a public meeting will be held to get feedback on the report. A final report will be made by February 2014, and a public meeting will be held on that final report before it’s forwarded to the Ann Arbor city council.

Sheehan stressed that feedback can also be provided along the way by email if people get tired of attending the public meetings.

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Column: Taylor Lewan Leads the Band Fri, 18 Jan 2013 13:40:04 +0000 John U. Bacon John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

With the college football season finally behind us, I wanted to write a sweet little story about a very good guy who plays football for Michigan. But every time I tried, some bad news got in the way.

The first obstacle was Lance Armstrong. In case you missed it – perhaps you live on Mars – it turns out the man who came back from cancer to win a record seven Tours de France and write two bestselling books about his inspirational story is a complete fraud. He was taking performance-enhancing drugs during his entire reign, and whenever someone tried to tell the truth about his drug use – even if they had been forced to – he went out of his way to ruin their careers, their finances, and occasionally their lives.

It appears Lance Armstrong is a genuinely bad person. So, that’s all the time I want to give him.

Now, back to college football. On Monday, January 7th – six days after New Year’s, when the college football season always ended in the old days – I stayed up until midnight to watch the national championship game between Alabama and Notre Dame. I don’t know why I stayed up that late. It was over after Alabama ran up an insurmountable 28-0 lead in the first half. But I did learn Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who already makes more than $5 million a year, earned an additional $400,000 that night. His players – who, as you might recall, actually played the game – received $500 of souvenirs. Think anything’s wrong with this?

I was heartened, at least, to see the head coaches at Penn State, Notre Dame and Oregon all turn down bigger salaries from the NFL to stay with their schools. Until, that is, Chip Kelly, the head coach at Nike University – er, the University of Oregon – changed his mind, took the money, and ran. But that’s barely news.

Okay, now can I get to my favorite story, about Michigan’s Taylor Lewan? No? There’s some bizarre story coming out of Notre Dame I’ve got to talk about first?

Ah, jeez. All right. Here goes.

In case you live not on Mars but Pluto, it seems their All-American linebacker, Manti Te’o, told reporters at the outset of the season that he lost his grandmother, and his girlfriend, in the same week.

True enough, Te’o lost his grandmother. But this week, we learned, he didn’t lose his girlfriend, because she does not exist – which doctors I consulted tell me is one of the pre-conditions for dying. So, did Te’o engineer the hoax, or was he a sucker for one? When politicians and corporate executives have to choose between confessing corruption or incompetence, they choose incompetence, every time. And so did Te’o, and so did Notre Dame, which stood behind him in a decidedly bizarre press conference Tuesday night. Victims, all.

And that goes double for the reporters who apparently never bothered to verify any of it, which can take a minute or more, in many cases. Notable exception: the people at Deadspin, who singlehandedly uncovered the story that people at much bigger publications swallowed whole.

This story is, sadly, far from over. As the legendary Don Canham told me, and I have repeated countless times since (though no one seems to listen): “Never turn a one-day story into a two-day story” – yet everyone involved seems to be doing exactly that.

Notre Dame probably had the easiest out. The athletic director there could have simply said, in a press release: We do not involve ourselves in the love lives of our student-athletes. End of their story, anyway. But they gave a convoluted defense of Te’o  – and, you watch, they will pay for it.

Okay, now can I tell my happy little tale? Yes? Good!

The story I want to tell is about the University of Michigan’s Taylor Lewan. Only a junior, he rose to become the Big Ten’s offensive lineman of the year, a first team All-American, and a likely first-round NFL draft pick, which would be worth many millions of dollars to the young man.

Leading up to his press conference last week, just about all of his side comments sounded like he was long gone. But, at his press conference, he told us he had decided to turn down the NFL, stay at Michigan, stick with his teammates, finish his degree, and graduate on time. For this, the experts said he was stupid and crazy – the same sort of experts who said Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o were heroes.

Lewan wisely didn’t seem to care. A few minutes after his announcement, he made a cameo appearance at Michigan’s basketball game, and served as the conductor of the pep band, to great applause. As a conductor, I’d have to say he is an excellent left tackle. The guy didn’t hit the beat by accident.

But as a person, Taylor Lewan has been the best news in sports this year. Slow race, perhaps, but he’s winning it.

So Lance Armstrong, Chip Kelly and Manti Te’o, please step back, and give the stage to Mr. Lewan. Just not the baton.

About the writer: John U. Bacon is the author of “Bo’s Lasting Lessons” and “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football” – both national bestsellers. His upcoming book, “Fourth and Long: The Future of College Football,” will be published by Simon & Schuster in September 2013. You can follow him on Twitter (@Johnubacon), and at

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our publication of columnists like John U. Bacon. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!

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EPA, Others Object to Whitewater Project Wed, 19 Sep 2012 15:12:41 +0000 Mary Morgan Four entities – including the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the local Huron River Watershed Council – have filed letters of objection with the state of Michigan to a project that would add a recreational section of whitewater along the Huron River, next to the new Argo Cascades.

Huron River near Argo Dam

A view looking upstream at the Huron River from the Broadway Bridge, toward the section of the proposed whitewater feature. On the left is environmental remediation work on the DTE/MichCon property. (Photo by D. Askins.)

Colin Smith, Ann Arbor’s parks and recreation manager, informed the park advisory commissioners about the opposition at PAC’s Sept. 18, 2012 meeting, describing the news as “not especially positive.” Other letters filed against the project were from the state Dept. of Natural Resources fisheries division and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The project requires a permit from the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) because it affects the Huron River, a state waterway. The project was originally approved by the Ann Arbor city council in 2010, as part of a larger effort that included building the Argo Dam bypass, which wrapped up earlier this year. Subsequent to that council approval, DTE Energy offered to pay for and oversee the whitewater aspect, to coordinate it with environmental remediation work that’s taking place on property it owns along that stretch of the river, just downstream of Argo Dam.

DTE is the applicant for the whitewater permit, although the company is working closely with the city on the project. The city is interested in acquiring the DTE property along the Huron after remediation is completed – and it’s hoped that the company might gift it to the city as a park.

Smith told PAC members that the EPA objection – because it comes from a federal environmental oversight agency – has triggered a process that might stop the project. The EPA filed its letter on Aug. 15. From that date, the MDEQ has 90 days [until Nov. 13] to resolve the EPA’s concerns with the applicant.

The EPA’s letter from Tinka Hyde, director of the agency’s water division, states that the project could significantly degrade the Huron River by inhibiting fish passage and increasing the water velocity, which in turn could affect sediment flow and degrade the stability of that section of the river. Another concern cited is that the project could constrain public use of the river. Because of these issues, the EPA believes the project does not comply with the federal Clean Water Act. [.pdf of EPA letter]

Similar concerns were cited in the other letters of objection. Additional issues raised include water quality concerns that could affect the health of those using the whitewater area, who might come in contact with E.coli in the river; and exacerbated flow problems during drought periods. [U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services letter] [DNR fisheries division letter and additional attachments] [HRWC letter]

The DNR fisheries letter – signed by Jeffery Braunscheidel, senior fisheries biologist – also alludes to the contentious “dam in/dam out” debate involving Argo Dam. Structures used to create the whitewater are in essence dams, he stated, and the division does not support new dam construction. “Planning should provide for a naturally functioning system below Argo Dam as history has made clear that, at some point in time, the Argo Dam will be modified or removed. Impediments should not be constructed in the river that the public will again be asked to address.”

But it’s the EPA’s objection that carries the most weight. If the EPA does not withdraw its objection and the MDEQ still decides to grant the permit, then DTE would also need to seek a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before the project can move forward.

At PAC’s Sept. 18 meeting, Smith told commissioners that the EPA letter was “somewhat surprising.” It’s unusual for the federal agency to weigh in on a relatively small project like this. He did not speculate on why the EPA got involved, but said that staff with the city and DTE had met with MDEQ earlier in the day to make sure they understood the objections. The design had already been modified to respond to concerns that the MDEQ had previously raised, he said, adding that the staff will try to do everything they can to move the project forward.

The objections from the Huron River Watershed Council are less surprising. The Ann Arbor-based nonprofit, which works to protect and improve the Huron River and its tributaries, was an advocate for removing the Argo Dam when that issue was debated by city council in 2009. [Background on that topic is included in Chronicle coverage: "Planning Group Revisits Huron River Report."]

Schematic showing the placement of the whitewater amenities in the river.

Schematic showing location of the planned whitewater amenity in the Huron River, upstream from where the Argo Cascades enters into the river.  (Image links to .pdf of slide presentation made at a March 12, 2012 Ann Arbor city council working session, with higher resolution images.)

Part of the context for the dam in/dam out question related to MDEQ’s concerns about toe drains in the earthen embankment adjacent to the concrete and steel dam, which separates the headrace from the river. The dispute with the state over how to deal with the toe drains at Argo Dam was ultimately resolved when the city council approved a $1,168,170 project at its Nov. 15, 2010 meeting to build a bypass that replaced the headrace and eliminated the portage previously required by canoeists and kayakers. That project – the Argo Cascades – was finished earlier this year.

The $1.168 million included $180,000 for the whitewater feature, to be designed by Gary Lacy of Boulder, Colo., and built by TSP Environmental, a Livonia firm – the team that designed and built the Argo Cascades.

In mid-2011, DTE proposed paying for the project but delaying its construction until after the company finished remediating the land next to the Huron River immediately across from the cascades, on the south side of the river. DTE had hoped to secure a permit for the whitewater project this summer. It has already begun environmental remediation work at the site.

The letter of objection from HRWC is signed by its executive director, Laura Rubin, and deputy director Elizabeth Riggs. The letter raises a range of concerns, including the project’s affect on flow rate. From the letter:

The documented flow problems at Argo Dam and the Argo Cascades … during a low flow period highlight, at best, the challenges of multiple-use resource management and, at worst, the desiccation of Michigan rivers when recreational use is prioritized at the expense of other uses, namely shared natural resources. This problem will be exacerbated if the proposed structures are built . Moreover, a likely unintended consequence of the structures being built will be City leaders and staff finding they have to choose one whitewater feature over the other when flows are insufficient to keep both recreation features open.

For Chronicle coverage of the flow-rate issue, see ”How Low Can Argo Flow Go?

The majority of concerns cited in the HRWC letter relate to potential problems caused by the installation of two structures in the river that are necessary to create the whitewater effect. From the letter:

1. Whitewater structures can impact stream hydrology and hydraulics. Low-flow dams/weirs incorporated into certain whitewater structures reduce channel width by up to 90 percent, creating velocity barriers to organism passage and potentially increasing shear stress on down stream bed and banks.

2. These narrow weirs can create stagnant pools that strand aquatic organisms and raise water temperature.

3. Many whitewater structures are ” low head” dams and have similar effects of a low head dam. Dams interfere with sediment transport by creating sediment deposition zones in the pools between structures, which in turn may eliminate preferred fish habitat, interfere with down stream drifting of macroinvertebrates, and lower dissolved oxygen concentrations. Whitewater structures may also interfere with the transport of small and large organic materials. Organic material transport plays a crucial role in stream health, from fallen leaves that are food for macroinvertebrates to large woody debris that provides sediment retention in stream channels and cover for fish.

4. Whitewater structures can create passage barriers or stranding hazards for fish and other aquatic organisms due to a combination of high water velocities, inadequate water depths, high vertical drops, turbulence, and lack of space for resting cover. The measured velocities over current white water structures are greater than the known velocity capabilities of most of the native fish species present in Michigan rivers.

5. The porous streambed and banks in rivers are essential habitat for fish and macroinvertebrates – macroinvertebrates such as the state threatened freshwater mussel species that was positively identified in this section of the Huron River on July 25, 2012 by ecologists with the University of Michigan and HRWC. Additionally, this habitat functions to exchange water between the ground and river, assist in nutrient and carbon assimilation, and moderate river temperatures. Grouted whitewater structures eliminate habitats in the spaces between rocks and block the interplay between the river, land, and groundwater.

6. The proposed whitewater structures include large rocks, benches, terraces, or viewing platforms, which can displace riparian vegetation. Riparian vegetation contributes to the health of the river by providing shade, bank stabilization, large woody debris, and habitat for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife. Riparian vegetation also improves water quality by removing excess nutrients, preventing sedimentation from bank erosion, and lowering water temperature. Whitewater structures also increase the amount of rock in the stream or riparian corridor, which can increase water temperatures.

Upon receiving news from Smith about the letters of objection, park commissioners had only a few clarificational questions, though several members spoke to him about it immediately after the meeting adjourned. PAC had previously recommended approval of the whitewater feature, as part of the overall dam bypass project. That vote took place in October 2010 – there has been considerable turnover on the commission since that time.

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County Parks & Rec System Plans for Future Wed, 05 Sep 2012 04:36:07 +0000 Margaret Leary On Sept. 5, 2012, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners will consider amending an ordinance for the county’s natural areas preservation program. The intent is to create more flexibility in setting aside funds for stewardship, with the goal of eventually building a $6 million fund for ongoing maintenance of county preserves.

Entrance to Scio Woods Preserve on Scio Church Road

The entrance to Scio Woods Preserve, part of the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission’s natural areas preservation program. The 91-acre property, off of Scio Church Road, is protected in partnership with Scio Township and the Ann Arbor greenbelt program. (Photo by M. Morgan)

Since the NAPP initiative was established in 2000, nearly 2,500 acres of land have been preserved countywide. The millage-funded program is overseen by the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission (WCPARC), a body appointed by the county board that also oversees the much older parks and recreation system, which was established in 1973.

WCPARC also partners with other organizations on special initiatives, including the countywide Border to Border Trail, (B2B), the Connecting Communities program, and planning for an east county recreation center on Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti. That center’s planning effort is also taking another step forward this month, with WCPARC staff holding an open house on Thursday, Sept. 27 to review two design options for the center. The open house will be held at Spark East (215 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti) from 3-8 p.m., with formal presentations at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

In the context of current proposals – the NAPP ordinance change and possible new recreation center in Ypsilanti – this report looks at the history, budget, and scope of the county parks and recreation system, as well as its master planning for the future and its partnerships with local, state and national organizations with a similar purpose.

Background and Overview

When the Washtenaw County board of commissioners voted to establish the county parks and recreation department in 1973, the parks system started with just four roadside parks that had previously been maintained by the county road commission. By 2000, the system had grown to 1,100 acres of parks, all north of I-94 and east of US-23. Now, there are more than 2,000 acres of parks and recreation facilities countywide, overseen by the Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission (WCPARC).

The operation is funded with an 0.472 mill tax and this year has a budget of $23.838 $15.5 million.

WCPARC also administers a separate program, the natural areas preservation program (NAPP), which the county board established in 2000. NAPP is funded with a 10-year millage of 0.2409 mills, which voters renewed in 2010. Since 2002 – the first year that millage proceeds were received – the millage has generated about $37 million in revenues. The ordinance enables WCPARC to accumulate these funds, and expend them as properties are identified. With that funding, WCPARC has protected 2,459 acres, often in partnership with other organizations.

A fundamental difference between NAPP and parks & recreation is that parks & recreation’s efforts focus on very active uses, while NAPP’s focus is, by the terms of its ordinance, intended for “passive recreation.” Passive recreation includes trail walking, bird watching and other activities, but not active uses like fishing or hunting. Both programs are administered by the same staff and managed by the department’s director, Bob Tetens. The WCPARC website contains an interactive map showing all its facilities.

WCPARC Administration & Governance

The state statute enabling creation of WCPARC calls for the county board of commissioners, an elected body, to appoint 10 members who serve staggered three-year terms. The enabling legislation – 1965 Act of the Michigan Legislature – reads in part as follows:

§ 46.351. Sec. 1.

(1) The county board of commissioners of a county, by resolution adopted by a 2/3 vote of all its members, may create a county parks and recreation commission, which shall be under the general control of the board of commissioners.

(4) The county parks and recreation commission is an agency of the county. The county board of commissioners may make rules and regulations with respect to the county parks and recreation commission as the board of commissioners considers advisable. The members of the county parks and recreation commission are not full-time officers. The county board of commissioners shall fix the compensation of the members.

WCPARC members must include the chair or another member of the county road commission (Fred Veigel); the county water resources commissioner or an employee designated by the commissioner (Janis Bobrin); and eight others, which must include between one and three county commissioners – Barbara Levin Bergman (District 8), Rolland Sizemore, Jr. (District 5), and Dan Smith (District 2). Other current WCPARC commissioners are: Robert Marans (president), Patricia Scribner (vice president), Nelson K. Meade (secretary), Janice Anscheutz, and Jimmie Maggard.

The commission oversees work of the staff, led by the WCPARC director. The department has had only four directors in its 38-year history: Robert Gamble (1974-1980); Roger Shedlock (1980-1985); Fred Barkely (1985-2001); and Bob Tetens, the current director who was appointed in 2001.

When Tetens, a graduate of Eastern Michigan University, came to work for WCPARC in 2001, he brought years of experience in other parts of Washtenaw County government. He started working for the county in 1978 as a planner, and later served as a research associate, senior planner, and in the office of the county administrator. Tetens then served as executive director of the Urban Area Transportation Study, now known as the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study, an entity responsible for transportation planning in the area. Tetens cites his experience with transportation and countywide planning for his commitment to the importance of non-motorized transportation.

As WCPARC’s leader, Tetens oversees a staff of about 35 full-time employees. These include deputy director Coy Vaughn – whose experience includes several years with the Ann Arbor planning department – and park planners, administrative staff, two naturalists, a horticulturist, a greens superintendent, and other employees in six locations. As part of those 35 employees, each of the largest parks or recreation facilities – Meri Lou Murray, Pierce Lake, Independence Lake, and Rolling Hills – has a superintendent, building maintenance, and operations staff.

WCPARC also hires nearly 400 seasonal workers, including lifeguards, park rangers and managers, groundskeepers, concession workers, maintenance workers, gardeners, and interpretive naturalists. These people work in both the parks and recreation facilities, as well as for the natural areas preservation program.

National Areas Preservation Program (NAPP)

The county board of commissioners established the Washtenaw County natural areas preservation program (NAPP) in 2000 with its natural areas ordinance 128. The ordinance sets out NAPP’s purpose:

SECTION 1:  Declaration of Purpose

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners declares that Washtenaw County is a desirable place to live, work and visit in large part because of the existence of natural areas within the County.  Natural areas have aesthetic as well as practical benefits for County citizens. In addition, the purchase of natural areas can be used to protect fragile lands and environmentally threatened lands. The purchase of natural areas within the County will further these public benefits. Passive recreation would be appropriate use of this land.

The ordinance also authorizes the parks and recreation commission to purchase and hold real estate in the name of the county, and lays out procedures and standards for the purchase and protection of lands. The process begins when landowners nominate their property to the program, either as natural areas or as agricultural lands. Potential natural areas are reviewed by the Natural Areas Technical Advisory Committee (NATAC), which makes recommendations to WCPARC.

The county board of commissioners appoints NATAC’s seven members, on WCPARC’s recommendation, to two-year terms. The ordinance requires them to be county residents who have a “demonstrable level of expertise” in each of several professions: fisheries biology, botany/forestry, wildlife management, land use planning, environmental education, professional real estate, and land trust management.

Sign signifying a partnership between Scio Township land preservation efforts and the county natural areas preservation program

Sign signifying a partnership between Scio Township land preservation efforts and the county natural areas preservation program.

The ordinance outlines the standard for determining “natural areas” worth acquiring: “land, including that used for agricultural purposes, which provides the function of conserving natural resources, including the promotion of the conservation of soils, wetlands and waterways, habitat, and special plants, animals, and plant communities.” The ordinance also identifies types of “passive recreation” that considered appropriate use of this land: “walking, jogging, bird watching, nature studies, quiet picnicking and other quiet inactive pastimes.”

Agricultural lands that are proposed for NAPP are handled in a different way. Such properties are reviewed by the Agricultural Lands Preservation Advisory Committee (ALPAC), as well as by WCPARC and the local unit of government where the land is located. WCPARC performs standard due diligence, such as environmental assessments, property line surveys, and anything specific to the property, often hiring third parties to do that work.

ALPAC was established by the Washtenaw County board’s purchase of development rights (PDR) ordinance to assist WCPARC in determining whether it should purchase the development rights on a particular parcel, as well as how much the county should pay for those rights. PDR is a common mechanism for protecting farmland, letting landowners keep their property for farming but preventing – via a conservation easement – its development. In May of 2010, the county board approved an ordinance revision that incorporated farmland into the county’s natural areas preservation program and clarified the use of PDR for that purpose.

ALPAC consists of seven county residents: three in the agricultural business, and one each from the professions of planning, real estate, and environment or conservation groups, plus an ex-officio member of the county board of commissioners.

The county also contracts with the Legacy Land Conservancy, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit, to assist with both natural areas and farmland preservation efforts.

Natural Areas Preservation Program: Budget

Voters first approved NAPP funding in 2000 and renewed it in 2010, each time for 10 ten years. The current millage – at 0.2409 mills – will expire in 2020 and generates about $3 million annually. The total generated since the millage was originally approved through 2012 is about $36,989,093, according to WCPARC director Bob Tetens.

The NAPP ordinance directs specific fund allocations between acquiring and maintaining natural areas (75%) and agricultural land (25%). Funds used for natural areas are further divided: 93% for acquisition, and 7% for stewardship and maintenance.

For the first half of 2012, NAPP expenses totaled $1,124,591. Of that, $1,076,534 was for natural areas, and $48,057 for agricultural lands. The natural areas expenses are split between acquisition ($983,400) and management/stewardship ($93,134).

Natural Areas Preservation Program: Budget – Ordinance Change

A proposal to modify the allocation of funding for natural areas is being brought to the county board of commissioners as an ordinance change. It’s on the agenda for the board’s Sept. 5 meeting of the ways & means committee, where an initial vote is expected. A final vote would likely take place at the board’s Sept. 19 meeting.

The change would remove the restriction that only 7% of millage funds could be used for management or stewardship. WCPARC had been briefed on the proposal at its May 8, 2012 meeting. At that time, the proposal would have raised the limit from 7% to 25%. Now, however, proposed ordinance amendment would eliminate all percentage restrictions on set-asides for management and stewardship.

The proposal would amend Section 8 of the NAPP ordinance (deleted text indicated in strike-through):

SECTION 8: Natural Areas Acquisition Fund

Available funding for the purchase of natural areas land shall be deposited in a special fund in the office of the Washtenaw County Treasurer (“Acquisition Fund”). Money in such Acquisition Fund may be temporarily deposited in such institutions or invested in such obligations as may be lawful for the investment of County money.

The revenues from the deposit and/or investment of the Acquisition Fund along with the revenues from the sale of any natural areas property purchased pursuant to this Ordinance shall be applied and used solely for the purchase, stewardship and administration of natural areas land (75%) and agricultural development rights (25%) under this Ordinance, however, that no more than 7% of increased millage funds used to purchase land under this Ordinance may be used annually to administer a land preservation program or maintain lands purchased under this Ordinance.

According to a staff memo that’s part of the county board’s Sept. 5 meeting packet, the goal would be to use $600,000 per year for management and stewardship. Of that, $240,000 would be used for ongoing stewardship activities, and $360,000 would remain to be invested in a dedicated reserve for long-term land stewardship. By 2020, when the current millage expires, that annual investment is expected to have built a dedicated reserve of $6 million.

Though no percentages are identified in the proposed amendment, $600,000 would work out to about 25% of annual millage revenues.

Natural Areas Preservation Program: Preserves

Since NAPP was formed, the county has created 22 nature preserves from over 2,300 acres of land that it has protected through the program. Like Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program, the preserves are located in the county’s rural areas, and are often protected in partnership with entities like the Ann Arbor greenbelt, the Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy (SMLC), The Nature Conservancy, or land preservation programs set up by individual townships.

Unlike the greenbelt program, which doesn’t purchase land outright, most of the NAPP preserves are owned by the county and open to the public. Some examples of those preserves include:

  • LeFurge Woods Preserve: This preserve, at 2384 North Prospect Road in Superior Township, is open to the public for wildlife viewing every day between sunrise and sunset. Parking is on the road, or in a small lot. The preserve is owned by the Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy (SMLC); NAPP funds were used to purchase a conservation easement. Trails lead visitors over meadows, wetlands, agricultural land, and woods.
  • Raymond F. Goodrich Preserve: On Dixboro Road just south of M-14 in Ann Arbor Township, this 29-acre preserve is adjacent to the 101-acre University of Michigan Horner-McLaughlin Woods, creating an area of old-growth oak-hickory forest, native shrubs, several small wetlands, and a large swamp that separates much of the woodland from the M-14 freeway. The preserve access point is located on the west side of Dixboro Road, approximately 0.2 miles south of M-14 and 150 feet north of Overbrook Drive.
  • Leonard Preserve: This is the largest preserve in the WCPARC system, located on the northwest edge of the village of Manchester. It protects nearly one mile of River Raisin shoreline. WCPARC partnered with The Nature Conservancy, which purchased the historic farm house and surrounding 40 acres of land. WCPARC acquired the remaining 205 acres. The preserve has over four miles of hiking trails, and a 10-acre prairie remnant where grasses can grow over five feet tall by autumn. The preserve entrance is at the end of Union Street, off Main Street/Austin Road in the Village of Manchester (west of the Manchester downtown area).
  • Scio Woods Preserve: An example of the collaboration of several entities – the Ann Arbor greenbelt program, Scio Township land preservation commission, and WCPARC – this 91-acre preserve just west of Ann Arbor has steep slopes and a mix of mature woodland, wetlands, ponds, and a seasonal stream. The preserve entrance is on the north side of Scio Church Road, between Zeeb and Wagner roads, part in Lodi Township and part in Scio Township.
  • Devine Preserve: This natural area on Liberty Road was the first property purchased through NAPP in 2003. Most of the 137 acres are wetland, and two loop trails wind through the woods. Large burr oak and hop hornbeam trees are here. The preserve entrance and parking area is on the right (north) side of Liberty Road, approximately 0.5 miles west of Zeeb Road and about 2.4 miles east of Parker Road.
  • Fox Science Preserve: This 69-acre site is a former gravel pit, dug to provide sand and gravel to build I-94. It’s now home to glacial boulders and evidence of prehistoric vegetation, used for more than 35 years as an outdoor classroom. According to WCPARC’s 2010-2014 master plan, “the gravel here resembles that which must have occurred upon retreat of the glaciers 12,000 years ago.” This preserve is the result of a collaborative effort between the city of Ann Arbor greenbelt program, Scio Township, and NAPP. The entrance to the preserve is on the east side of Peters Road, approximately 0.3 miles north of Miller Road.
  • Recent acquisitions: To date in 2012, WCPARC has added three natural areas, including 20 acres of the Malikah Muhammad property in Scio Township, adjacent to the Devine Preserve; and 33 acres of J.A. Bloch property adjacent to Northfield Woods. [For details of these acquisitions, see Chronicle coverage of WCPARC's May 8, 2012 meeting.]. Also protected this year was the 100-acre Pellerito property in Superior Township, on which WCPARC holds a conservation easement on land owned by the Southern Michigan Land Conservancy.

[List of all preserves with descriptive summary, organized geographically]

Parks and Recreation

While the natural areas preservation program is relatively new, the larger operation overseen by WCPARC – created nearly 40 years ago – is the county parks system, with a variety of recreation facilities.

Rolling Hills Water Park wave pool

The wave pool at Rolling Hills Water Park in Ypsilanti Township. A $4.4 million renovation is planned for the water park. (Photo by M. Leary)

Two millages totaling 0.472 mills support the parks and recreation function of WCPARC: one for operations, and one for development.

The operational millage, at 0.2353 mills, was renewed for 10 additional years in 2004. It extends the millage that was first approved in 1976, and renewed in 1984, 1994 and 2004. Bob Tetens, parks and recreation director, explained that to ensure operational continuity, millage is renewed two years in advance of its expiration date. The current operational millage expires in 2016, and Tetens expects to seek renewal in 2014.

The development millage – which funds capital improvements and expansion – was first approved in 1988, and renewed in 1998 and in 2008. It is also a 10-year millage, currently at 0.2367 mills. It is scheduled for renewal in 2018.

In 2012, revenues from the combined operational and development millages are expected to generate $6.309 million. WCPARC budgets for three types of expenses: predictable recurring expenses (personnel, supplies, internal service charges, and capital outlays); an operating reserve (in case property tax revenues unexpectedly drop); and partnership commitments, such as those that have created the Border-to-Border Trail and Connecting Communities paths. The following chart summarizes the 2012 budget [Editor's note: This chart is a revised version of the chart that was originally published, to provide a clearer summary of the expenses and fund balance items.]:

WCPARC 2012 budget

WCPARC 2012 budget.

Expenses can fluctuate dramatically, based on renovation or expansion projects that are in the works. This year, for example, Independence Lake Park is undergoing several enhancements that will be finished by its 2013 opening on Memorial Day, including a new pavilion, and a new enhanced spray zone. And a major renovation is also underway at the Rolling Hills Water Park, at a cost of $4.4 million. [See Chronicle coverage of WCPARC's July 2012 meeting, when these projects were discussed in detail.]

Parks and Recreation: Major Facilities

WCPARC operates five major facilities that require staff and where visits and usage can be measured: (1) the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center, located at Platt Road and Washtenaw Avenue, on the east side of Ann Arbor; (2) Independence Lake Park, on Jennings Road a bit north of North Territorial and east of US-23; (3) Parker Mill Park, at 4650 Geddes Road in Ann Arbor Township; (4) Pierce Lake Golf Course, an 18-hole golf course at 1175 South Main Street in Chelsea; and (5) Rolling Hills Park at 7660 Stony Creek Road, which includes a water park with a separate admission fee. [.pdf with descriptions of these recreational facilities]

The first of these facilities – Independence Lake Park – opened in 1985. That year, 80,653 visitors came to the park. As additional facilities were opened in the following years through the late 1990s, parks usage increased. Between 1985 and 2011, the five facilities have logged a total of 13,789,383 visits. Of those, the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center gets by far the greatest usage, with 6,798,885 visits logged since opening in 1991.

In addition, WCPARC owns several other parks throughout the county, including ones that are located in or near Ann Arbor:

  • The County Farm Park: Located on 127 acres at the corner of Platt and Washtenaw, from 1837 until 1917 this area held a poor house and insane asylum. In 1917, those structures were replaced by a brick hospital called the Washtenaw Infirmary, which operated until 1967. In 1973, the land was transferred to the new WCPARC, and in 1991 the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center opened where the infirmary had stood years before. Other facilities include a playground, two pavilions, a perennial garden and community garden, and walking and jogging trails. The Britton Woods Nature Area is also located within the park, named after the last farmer to own the land. It reflects the Ann Arbor area landscape in presettlement times. In the last year, the area of the park through which Malletts Creek flows has been cleared of invasive plants, sculpted to enable the creek to flow, and replanted with native plants. [See May 2012 Chronicle coverage of that restoration project.]
  • Swift Run Dog Park: This 13-acre park, built in partnership with the city of Ann Arbor, is bounded on the north by Ellsworth Road and on the east by Platt Road. Parking is located off of Platt on the west side of the road. It is open daily from dawn to dusk. There, dog owners may legally allow their dogs to run off-leash. There is an annual fee, and dogs must wear a permit tag, which requires the owner to accept responsibility in writing. This unsupervised park has large and small dog run areas, a portable toilet, and dog waste disposal stations.
  • Staebler Farm: The farm is located on 98 acres off of Plymouth Road, just east of Prospect Road in Superior Township. With farm and residential buildings, frontage on four water bodies, a flowing perennial stream, and many acres of pasture and hayfields, it is easy to see from M-14, which runs along its north edge. WCPARC staff are currently working on a master plan to develop this park, which is not yet open to the public. [See Chronicle coverage: "County Parks: Options Staebler Farm"]
  • Park Northfield: Located on Pontiac Trail, one-half mile west of Dixboro Road in Northfield Township and approximately eight miles from Ann Arbor. This park is relatively isolated and natural, although on a busy road. Just 12 acres, it holds a hardwood forest, marsh, and rolling open field, with a picnic area and shelter, play equipment, toilets, and an information playfield area.
  • Sharon Mills Park: On the banks of the River Raisin at 5701 Sharon Hollow Road in Sharon Township, 1/4 mile south of Pleasant Lake Road, this park was originally a sawmill, built in 1834. In 1928 it became a Ford Village Industries plan and manufactured parts for Ford vehicles until 1946. Until WCPARC acquired it in 1999, it played many roles: private residence, antiques business, and a winery. The park has 170 acres and provides interpretive signage, fishing, picnicking, and canoeing. The park can be reserved for private events such as weddings, which are catered by a private firm.

Special Initiatives

In addition to WCPARC’s primary focus on parks, recreational facilities and natural areas preservation, administrators have developed collaborations related to several special initiatives. Over the years, WCPARC has partnered with dozens of organizations, government entities, nonprofits and private businesses. [.pdf of partnership list]

Current efforts include the Border-to-Border Trail, the Connecting Communities initiative, and the Eastside Recreation Center project. The first two are long-standing; the latter has emerged in the last year, with the intent of helping the city of Ypsilanti activate the long-dormant Water Street redevelopment project on Michigan Avenue.

Special Initiatives: Border-to-Border Trail

This is a multi-agency, collaborative project to build a 35-mile trail for non-motorized travel from Livingston County to Wayne County, traversing open spaces along the Huron River, Washtenaw County’s most distinctive natural feature. The concept, according to county parks and recreation director Bob Tetens, is driven by demand from local residents. Based on surveys that WCPARC has done over the years, he said, “people want non-motorized trails even more than they want open space.” Both efforts have received approval ratings in the 80% range when taxes to pay for it are not considered, he said, and in the 60% range “when you say you will pay for it with taxes.”

Border to Border Trail sign near the Hudson Mills Metropark

Border to Border Trail sign near the Hudson Mills Metropark.

According to the WCPARC master plan, 70% of the county’s residents live in river-linked communities. The B2B trail is intended to support alternative transportation and “enhance the livability of the county’s main urbanized areas,” according to the plan. The trail is being developed in 13 segments, from Segment A in the northwest (on the Livingston County border) to Segment M in the southeast (on the Wayne County border).

Each segment provides opportunities for collaboration and joint funding. For example, the 2-mile “segment C” in Hudson Mills Metropark that was finished in 2010 involved the Huron Clinton Metroparks Authority, WCPARC, the village of Dexter, the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Special Initiatives: Connecting Communities

WCPARC’s master plan states that “development of a county-wide non-motorized trail network is a larger task than any single community of organization can assume,” so in 2009 WCPARC established the Connecting Communities initiative to pursue that goal. The approach is to provide funds to supplement funding by partner organizations, but only for construction, not for planning or design. Projects must accomplish WCPARC’s “primary goal of providing valuable, non-motorized connections between communities and activity centers,” according to the master plan, yielding an alternative for recreation, transportation, fitness, and energy conservation.

By 2010, WCPARC had spent or allocated about $5 million for 40 miles of trails and paved shoulders, and every year since then more has been added.

Examples of those projects include a collaboration with the city of Ann Arbor and the Washtenaw County road commission to pave three miles of the shoulder along Huron River Drive; and with the road commission and Superior Township to create a 1.5-mile non-motorized path on Geddes Road. Both projects were done in 2010.

To fund this initiative, WCPARC has committed 20% of its development budget – up to $600,000 a year – for each of the five years from 2010-2014. That gives WCPARC the potential to contribute up to $3 million to the Connecting Communities initiative during that five-year period.

Special Initiatives: Eastside Recreation Center

The Eastside Recreation Center is a proposal to build a multi-purpose recreation center in Ypsilanti, similar to the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center in Ann Arbor. It would be located on the south side of Michigan Avenue along the east side of the Huron River, just over the river from downtown Ypsilanti. This 38-acre city-owned area, referred to as the Water Street Redevelopment Project is currently for sale.

WCPARC formed a partnership with the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning in April of 2012, and since then a team of TCAUP faculty and students have been developing a site plan for a building and an extension of the B2B trail that would cross the Huron River and Michigan Avenue and run on the east side of the river. WCPARC staff is working with the city of Ypsilanti to create a plan acceptable to the Michigan Department of Transportation, which has concerns about pedestrian safety and interference with the existing bridge that carries US-12 traffic over the river. [For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: "More Planning for Rec Center in Ypsilanti" and "County Parks Commission OKs $6M in Projects."]

The planners have sought public input, and will present their proposals at an open meeting at Spark East (215 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti) on Thursday, Sept. 27. That day, WCPARC staff will host an open house from 3-8 p.m., with formal presentations at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Scale models of two options will be available at the Spark East office starting on Monday, Sept. 24, and the public can view them during Spark East’s normal operating hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Next meeting: The Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in the county parks and recreation department’s office at 2230 Platt Road in Ann Arbor, in the County Farms property. The next meeting will be on Sept. 11, 2012.

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How Low Can Argo Flow Go? Sat, 04 Aug 2012 20:47:55 +0000 Dave Askins The full flow to the Argo Cascades was restored on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012, according to a city of Ann Arbor press release, and the city is again renting kayaks and inner tubes for the series of pools and drops that offer an alternative boatable channel around the Argo Dam. Dry conditions had led the city to reduce the flow to the cascades during the previous week, on July 26.

View looking north through Argo Cascades entrance

View looking north through the entrance to the Argo Cascades on Aug. 3, 2012. (Photos by the writer.)

Because the flow to the new recreational amenity was reduced, but not shut off completely last week, some confusion ensued about what measures, if any, the city had taken and why, and what the impact of those measures was.

At issue is the flow through two different channels – Argo Cascades on the one hand, and the stretch of the Huron River immediately below the Argo Dam on the other. The two channels are parallel and are separated by an earthen embankment, until they join together at a point just upstream of the Broadway bridge.

Downstream from that confluence, and near the Maiden Lane bridge, a U.S. Geological Survey gauge measures the total river flow.

Ostensibly, the planned reduction in flow to the cascades was to allow more water to flow through the dam-side channel, instead of passing through the Argo Cascades.

Based on a telephone interview with Molly Wade, unit manager for the city of Ann Arbor’s water treatment plant, here’s a summary description of what happened last week.

During the morning of July 26, city staff inserted a partial wooden stoplog at the entrance to the Argo Cascades. That evening, The Chronicle verified by visual inspection that the wooden stoplog was inserted in the slot. An intuitive “bathtub physics” expectation would have been to see no change in the gauge reading as a result of the partial stoplog insertion. That’s because whatever flow was previously going through the Argo Cascades would be expected automatically to flow through the dam-side channel.

That intuitive expectation was not met for two reasons. First, the Argo Dam is not a “spillover” dam, where the water flows over the top of the dam. So reducing the flow to the Argo Cascades would not “automatically” – in the bathtub physics sense – cause any additional flow through the dam-side channel. In order for the flow to increase through the Argo Dam, the dam’s gates – which are keyed to a pond-level gauge – would need to open wider.

So why didn’t the Argo Dam gates respond to what should have been a tendency for the Argo Pond level to increase? Ordinarily, you’d expect the Argo Dam gates would balance the lost flow downstream from the cascades with additional flow through the dam-side channel, thus maintaining the USGS gauge reading where it was – around 75 cfs (cubic feet per second). Instead, the gauge showed a drop to around 50 cfs.

That’s because upstream from Argo, at Barton Dam, the city staff was concurrently decreasing the opening to Barton Dam’s gates, in order to match the extremely low flow into Barton Pond. And reducing the flow at Barton ultimately reduced the flow to the river overall. A few days later, the pond levels at Argo and Barton rebounded, and the region enjoyed some, if limited, precipitation. And the flow rate as measured by the USGS Maiden Lane gauge started showing an incremental increase, to around 100 cfs.

By Friday, Aug. 3, the city of Ann Arbor had removed the partial stoplog at the cascades, and was back to renting kayaks for downstream trips through the pools and drops, all the way to the pond at Gallup Park.

The type of pattern for the increased flow in the Huron River, as measured by the USGS gauge, causes some continued concern by staff with the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources and Dept. of Environmental Quality. The pattern is “saw-toothed,” which reflects the opening and closing of dam gates in response to a variation in pond levels.

After the jump, more detail is presented on last week’s events, and the pertinent legal constraints for dam operation. We also cover some related issues – concerning a permit that is currently being sought for construction of a whitewater area in the Huron River, near Argo Dam. That amenity is to be constructed in the dam-side channel at Argo, just upstream from the confluence of the river and the cascades.

Insertion of the Cascades Stoplog

By way of basic geographical background, the city of Ann Arbor maintains a dam at Barton Pond that generates hydroelectric power and falls under the regulatory jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Barton Dam Argo Dam Argo Cascades

Huron River as it flows through the city of Ann Arbor.

Based on a 2009 letter from FERC to the city of Ann Arbor, the city operates Barton Dam under a May 4, 1982 FERC order that requires it to be operated in an “instantaneous run-of-river mode.” That is, the flow on the downstream side of the dam should exactly match the flow into the pond on the upstream side.

The FERC order requires implementation of a Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources (MDNR) requirement – maintaining either a minimum flow of 100 cfs or the amount that is flowing into Barton Pond, whichever is less.

Barton Pond is also the primary source of the city’s drinking water.

Argo Dam is about two miles downstream from Barton. It’s not regulated by FERC, because it does not generate any hydroelectric power. The city uses Argo Pond as a recreational amenity – maintaining a canoe livery there, renting boats for pond paddling as well as for trips down the Huron River to the pond at Gallup Park.

Previously the Argo-Gallup river trip required a portage. Paddlers would start from Argo Pond, navigate a short distance to the entrance to a headrace leading around the dam, then paddle along the headrace to a point where it spilled back into the river. That spillway was not boatable, and required the portage. Construction of the Argo Cascades, which opened for the first time this season, eliminates the need for a portage, and addressed the long, drawn out concern that the dam safety unit of Michigan’s Dept. of Environmental Quality had raised about the earthen berm separating the two channels.

On Wednesday, July 25,  Sumedh Bahl – the city of Ann Arbor’s community services area administrator – indicated in an email the imminent closing of Argo Cascades the following day:

To comply with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the MDNR minimum flow requirements across Barton and Argo dams, the low flow in the river has necessitated closing Argo Cascades. Presently it is planned to stop the flow through Cascades tomorrow [July 26] morning. Staff will continue to monitor river flows and the flow will be restored to the Cascades when flow in the river improves.

Based on the wording in Bahl’s email, the expectation was that the flow to the cascades would stop.

Argo Dam Partial stoplog July 26, 2012

Argo Cascades partial stoplog. Photo from evening of July 26, 2012.

However, mid-morning of July 26, Cheryl Saam, manager of the city’s canoe liveries, told The Chronicle that the cascades’ flow had been reduced, not stopped completely, by inserting a partial stoplog. The wooden partial stoplog was visible from the bridge over the inlet to the cascades.

The continued flow through the cascades prompted skepticism by some about whether the city had undertaken any measures to reduce the flow through the cascades. Paul Christensen, who’s active in the Huron River Fly Fishing Club, shot some video and posted it online, highlighting the visual contrast between the flow in the two channels.

While a visual assessment of the two flows might depend on subjective judgment, the USGS gauge showed an objective change – right around the time of 10:30 a.m. when Saam had indicated the city had inserted the wooden stoplog. If the point of inserting the stoplog was to cause more water to flow through the dam, instead of down the cascades, then the expected effect would not have been a reduction in the total river flow.

Simultaneous Action at Barton Dam

But the gauge showed a drop from about 75 cfs to around 50 cfs in that timeframe. As Molly Wade explained to The Chronicle, insertion of the cascades stoplog was not the only river flow-related activity that occurred. At the same time, city staff were reducing the opening in the upstream Barton Dam’s gates. It’s that reduction in the total river flow that the gauge reflected.

In previous weeks, the Barton Dam gates had been open to the minimum automatic setting, according to Wade, which is 100 cfs. When the Barton Pond levels began to drop, that meant less than 100 cfs was coming into Barton Pond from upstream. So eventually, staff undertook to manually reduce Barton Dam’s gates on July 26 – to 50 cfs. That’s 10 cfs less than the designed flow for the Argo Cascades. So that warranted a reduction to the Argo Cascades flow.

Huron River July 26 graph

Huron River discharge rate from July 26 through Aug. 2, 2012.

Wade’s explanation was consistent with the one that parks and recreation manager Colin Smith passed along via email to Ward 1 councilmember Sabra Briere: “The city responded by adjusting the gate at Barton further downward, allowing only what was flowing in the river to pass. The city also lowered the flow to the Cascades to allow more water over the gates of Argo dam. However, because the Barton gates were lowered to match the river flow, the overall flow through Argo concurrently dropped to match the river flow.”

National Weather Service precipitation map for 7-day period from July 27 through Aug. 2.  Washtenaw County is outlined in red. Dark blue regions received up to 0.5 inches of rain. Light blue indicates up to 0.25 inch of rain.

National Weather Service precipitation map for 7-day period from July 27 through Aug. 2. Washtenaw County is outlined in red. Dark blue regions received up to 0.5 inches of rain. Light blue indicates up to 0.25 inch of rain.

In subsequent days, the total river flow began to rebound slightly, as some limited precipitation fell.

By Friday, Aug. 3, the city had removed the stoplog at the Argo Cascades, and boat rentals had resumed.

Starting around Saturday, July 25, the type of pattern shown by the USGS gauge measurements is “spikey” or “saw-toothed.” That reflects the response of the Argo Dam gates to pond levels at Argo, which are affected by the flow through Barton Dam. Unevenness of flow at Barton Dam has drawn scrutiny from FERC in the recent past.

But the unevenness of flow has also been of general concern to state officials.

When The Chronicle spoke by phone with Chris Freiburger of the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources fisheries division, he indicated two potential areas of concern.

One was the unevenness of the flow – which does not appear to mimic natural, more gradual fluctuations in river flow. That unevenness of flow could have a negative impact on aquatic life in the dam-side channel.

Wade noted that some options for improving the evenness of the flow would require conversation with the MDEQ. She ventured that one possible approach would be to try to get finer control over the gates at Barton. For example, if only one gate opened, instead of operating in tandem, that would increase precision by a factor of two.

The other concern is the percentage split of the flow between the Argo Cascades and the dam-side channel. According to Wade, the city is using 85 cfs as the benchmark gauge level. That’s a number that comes from the sum of 60 cfs for the design flow rate of the cascades, and 25 cfs – the minimum opening (other than zero) for the Ago Dam gates. When the total flow drops below 85 cfs, that’s when a reduction of flow to the cascades would be undertaken, Wade said. But Freiburger observed that a 25-60 split doesn’t follow the typical pattern for diverting a smaller fraction of a flow around a dam.

Competing Flow: Reasonable Use, Aquatic Life

The Huron River Watershed Council has also expressed concern about the relative amount of water that gets put through the Argo Dam-side channel, based on the city’s protocol. In an email to The Chronicle, Elizabeth Riggs, deputy director of the HRWC, indicated a concern that the dam-side channel is drying up – a concern that was heightened because two live state-protected freshwater mussels were positively identified within that stretch of the river.

But in conversation with The Chronicle, Wade pointed out that the old configuration of the headrace – the precursor to the Argo Cascades – shunted roughly the same amount of flow around the Argo Dam. What’s different this year is that the city is actually regulating that flow for the benefit of the dam-side channel. The city didn’t do that in previous years, she noted.

In a telephone interview with James Sallee of the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality water resources division, he allowed that Wade likely has a reasonable point in comparing the cascades to the old headrace – in that the cross-sectional area of the entrance to the cascades is the same as the old headrace. He noted that the publicity around  the new recreational focus of the cascades meant that the competition for water flow through the two channels was now highlighted.

Given that aquatic life will have by now taken hold in the cascades, the interests of that aquatic life has to be balanced against the aquatic life in the  dam-side river channel, Sallee said. [The Chronicle noted there were some anglers fishing the Argo Cascades when it was closed to city-rented boats – but those anglers did not appear to be having success.]

Another set of competing interests is types of recreational use. The choice between allowing water flow through the cascades compared to the dam-side river channel could be seen as a choice between anglers – who fish the dam-side channel – and boaters, who use the cascades. Under doctrines set forth in “Public Rights on Michigan Waters,” a ”reasonable use” of the water is supposed to be assured, which would presumably apply to both types of recreation.

That potential conflict in types of use is one of several factors that Sallee will be weighing in an upcoming decision he’ll be making about issuing a permit to MichCon for construction of a whitewater amenity in the dam-side river channel. It was originally supposed to be part of the city’s Argo Cascades project, but MichCon offered to pay for the whitewater structures, in connection with its environmental cleanup of land on the opposite side of the Huron River, across from the cascades.

The idea is that kayakers will descend through the Argo Cascades, and when entering the Huron River will paddle upstream a short distance to the whitewater feature. One factor that Sallee said he’ll weigh is the potential conflict in recreational use between anglers and boaters.

On July 25, a public hearing was held on the MDEQ permit for the whitewater amenity construction. Sallee told The Chronicle that he expects to make a decision on the issuance of a permit by Sept. 21, or possibly sooner.

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