Stories indexed with the term ‘Huron River’

Planning Bylaws Clarify Council Interactions

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Feb. 20, 2014): Wrapping up a process that began last year, planning commissioners voted to revise their bylaws related to two issues: how city councilmembers interact with the commission; and public hearings.

Eleanore Adenekan, Diane Giannola, Bonnie Bona, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor planning commissioners Eleanore Adenekan, Diane Giannola and Bonnie Bona. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners had debated the proposed revisions at a Feb. 4, 2014 working session. Some of the same issues were raised during the Feb. 20 discussion, which was relatively brief.

One revision clarifies the limitations on a city councilmember’s interaction with the commission. The revised section states: “A member of the City Council shall not be heard before the Commission during the Councilmember’s term in office.” The intent is to prevent undue influence on the commission, and to avoid the possibility of legal action against the city.

Other revisions affect speaking turns at public hearings. The intent is to clarify how many turns the same person can speak at a public hearing, and how public hearings are continued if an item is postponed.

In other action, commissioners recommended rezoning a parcel on the city’s north side to public land (PL). The 2.2-acre site at 3301 Traverwood Drive, donated to the city by developer Bill Martin, is being added to the adjacent Stapp Nature Area, near the Leslie Park golf course. It was originally zoned R4D (multi-family dwelling) and had been part of a larger site that’s being developed with an apartment complex.

During communications, Kirk Westphal reported on a project that the environmental commission is working on: a neighborhood mini-grant program. Volunteers would coordinate a competitive grant program for community groups, who could apply to fund projects that address one of the city’s goals in its sustainability framework. That’s in the planning stages, he said.

Westphal also distributed a copy of a resolution recently passed by the city’s energy commission. It supports a recommendation to hire a full-time employee to focus on projects that help achieve goals in the city’s climate action plan. Westphal indicated that the planning commission’s executive committee would be discussing it. The energy commission would like a supporting resolution from the planning commission.

Commissioners also heard from two Skyline High School students, who spoke during public commentary as part of a class assignment. They talked about the importance of the Huron River and of the Huron River Watershed Council‘s River Up project. The planning commission’s work plan includes looking at how to implement recommendations from city’s North Main Huron River corridor task force. [Full Story]

A2: River Data Discontinued

The USGS stream gauge for the Huron River located near Wall Street has stopped reporting data like oxygen content and turbidity, although basic stream flow data is still available. The message on the USGS realtime reporting site indicates that the reduction in data reporting is due to federal sequestration: “The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will discontinue operation of a number of streamgages nationwide due to budget cuts as a result of sequestration. Additional streamgages may be affected if partners reduce their funding to support USGS streamgages. The USGS is working to identify which streamgages will be impacted and will post this information as it becomes available. … When budget fluctuations occur, the network is impacted.” [Source]

According to Huron River Watershed … [Full Story]

Fifth & Liberty

The signs to protect the Huron River have become permanent and painted to stand out. These are part of the new parking structure. This is the first time I’ve noticed the upgrade. [photo]

Ann Arbor Canoe Liveries Re-Open

After being shut down temporarily due to a sanitary sewer overflow into the Huron River, Ann Arbor canoe liveries along the river have been re-opened as of 8 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, according to city of Ann Arbor staff. The liveries had been shut down on Aug. 29 until the problem was rectified and until testing of river water would indicate that it was safe to re-open them.

Sewer Discharge into Huron River Reported

Overflow from the city’s sanitary sewer system was discharged into the Huron River – the result of a clog in the system caused by tree roots in the Nichols Arboretum, according to a city of Ann Arbor press release. [.pdf of city press release] The situation was reported on Thursday afternoon, Aug. 29, when “a sewer odor and some gray pooled water” was reported to the city, flowing overland into the river. The sewer was unclogged later that evening, and a city crew applied lime – a white powdery substance – to the ground to kill bacteria.

In addition, city of Ann Arbor canoe livery trips between Argo and Gallup were halted on Thursday through Friday. Water samples will be … [Full Story]

Rezoning OK’d for City-Owned Property

Ann Arbor planning commissioners have recommended approval to rezone city-owned property at 3875 E. Huron River Drive from R1A (single-family dwelling) to PL (public land). The site, which is adjacent to the city’s South Pond park, will be used as parkland.

3875 E. Huron River Drive, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of 3875 E. Huron River Drive.

The property was acquired by the city in 2010, but a “life estate” was in place until earlier this year, according to a staff memo. The two-acre site – located on the north side of E. Huron River Drive and west of west of Thorn Oaks Drive – includes a … [Full Story]

A2: Huron River

Chris Engle, the outdoor columnist for the Gaylord Herald Times, writes about his experiences fishing on the Huron River while in Ann Arbor for his 1-year-old daughter’s heart surgery at Mott Children’s Hospital. In the river he found the bowl of a manmade clay tobacco pipe. Engle writes: “Ann Arbor was founded in 1824, so my pipe may have belonged to one of the area’s first settlers, a clumsy fisherman who probably cursed when he accidentally snuffed his pipe in the river.” [Source]

Barton Pond

The first day of winter, and the Huron River agrees and looks wintery. [photo 1] As I stood and pondered why no spillways (chases) were open, with so much water yesterday, two started opening. [photo 2] Cool.

EPA, Others Object to Whitewater Project

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. [Full Story]

How Low Can Argo Flow Go?

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. [Full Story]

Burrowing Under Railroad Berm: Feasible?

On Wednesday, Ann Arbor city staff led a tour of property starting from the city-owned 721 N. Main site, northwards to the entrance ramp of M-14. On the tour were some members of a recently established North Main-Huron River corridor task force.

BirdsEye view of railroad berm

View of Depot Street from the south. The railroad track curves northward as it passes by Argo Dam, visible at the top of this image.

They were briefed on the status of the 721 N. Main property’s status with respect to potential environmental contamination – which is apparently less certain than what’s been portrayed recently by elected officials.

Task force members were also briefed on a related project that’s in its initial stages: a feasibility study for opening up the railroad berm separating the area south of Depot Street (including 721 N. Main) from the Huron River. The railroad tracks run along the top of the berm. The idea is to study the possible impact of replacing the solid berm – which acts as a dam for stormwater flow from the Allen Creek creekshed – with a culvert or a trestled system for suspending the tracks.

The primary impetus behind the berm project is stormwater management and flood mitigation. That’s reflected by the fact that the source of funds for the roughly $50,000 feasibility study would be from the city’s stormwater utility. The feasibility study would move ahead only if it’s approved by the city council, which will likely have the item on its agenda in about two months.

But the railroad berm study also has implications for pedestrian connections and riverside access – which the task force is supposed to study. The task force is asked to create a vision that, among other things, improves pedestrian and bicycle connections to Bandemer Park and increases public access to riverside parks.

So the railroad berm feasibility study has been coordinated with the goal of pedestrian accessibility. The RFP (request for proposals) for the study includes among its tasks a study of the potential for non-motorized access through the railroad berm.

The problematic character of pedestrian movement on the North Main corridor was evident during the July 25 tour. As the tour group made its way northward toward the M-14 entrance ramp, it repeated a pattern of fracturing into smaller clusters and re-grouping. That was partly a function of the size of the group (about 10 people), but also the corridor itself.

The relatively narrow walkable space – between the road to the left, and fences, buildings or vegetation on the right – features sidewalk slabs in need of repair and sections of dirt path that require single-file passage. Noise from rush hour traffic made conversation difficult along the way.

A year from now, on July 31, 2013, the task force is supposed to deliver its report on a vision for the corridor. Earlier than that, by the end of 2012, the task force has been asked to provide a recommendation on the use of 721 N. Main.

For task force members and members of the public, the same tour will be repeated on Aug. 1, starting at 5 p.m. from 721 N. Main. [Full Story]

North Main & River Task Force Created

At its May 7, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council passed a resolution establishing a task force to study the corridor along North Main Street and the Huron River.

The creation of the task force comes in the context of the city’s application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for funds to demolish two former maintenance yard buildings on the city-owned 721 N. Main parcel. The application has been approved by FEMA, but is pending the update of the city’s All-Hazard plan, which had expired and is being updated. FEMA is willing to help fund the demolition, because the two buildings are located in the floodway. The city council’s eventual acceptance of the FEMA grant will require a deed … [Full Story]

DEQ Sets April 10 Public Meeting for MichCon Site

The Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality is holding a public meeting on Tuesday, April 10, to discuss remediation of the MichCon property on Broadway Street, adjacent to the Huron River. The  meeting begins at 6 p.m. at  Cobblestone Farm, 2781 Packard Road in Ann Arbor.

MDEQ is also accepting written public comment on the remediation plan through April 30, 2012. A copy of the plan can be viewed online at with the user ID deq-public-ftp and the password Jumbl355#.

A copy of the construction permit application can be viewed online by searching for the file #11810066, then clicking on the folder icon for details. Copies of the plan and permit application also can be viewed at the downtown Ann Arbor District … [Full Story]

Planning Group Revisits Huron River Report

Ann Arbor master plan revisions committee meeting (March 8, 2012): At the request of planning commissioner Kirk Westphal, a committee charged with reviewing changes to the city’s master plan is looking at a recommendation related to land near the Huron River.

Ann Arbor master plan revisions committee

Members of the Ann Arbor planning commission, from left: Eleanore Adenekan, Kirk Westphal and Diane Giannola. At the right is Wendy Rampson, head of the city's planning staff. Commissioners were attending the March 8, 2012 meeting of the master plan revisions committee. (Photos by the writer.)

The Huron River and Impoundment Management Plan, known as HRIMP, was completed in 2009. But in large part because of controversy related to Argo Dam – centered on whether or not the dam should be removed – none of the 30 other recommendations were implemented.

Only one of the HRIMP recommendations relates to land use, and is therefore in the purview of the planning commission. That recommendation calls for limited commercial development – such as a restaurant or other publicly-used entity – in the Broadway bridge/Argo area.

Much of the discussion at the March 8 committee meeting centered on the property now owned by MichCon, a subsidiary of DTE Energy, located north of Broadway Street, between the Huron River and the railroad tracks that run past the Amtrak station. A state-supervised cleanup effort is underway at that site, but its future use – including the possibility that it could be acquired by the city and turned into a park – is unclear.

Remediation of the MichCon site was also a topic at the March 12, 2012 Ann Arbor city council work session, where the property’s potential future use was discussed. That presentation also included an update on a whitewater river feature that DTE Energy is paying for. The whitewater section to be built in the Huron River was originally part of the same project as the city’s Argo Dam bypass reconstruction. The bypass, which has been recently named the Argo Cascades, is nearly complete.

This article includes a summary of the council working session related to the MichCon cleanup, as well as a report on the master plan revisions committee meeting. Based on discussions at that committee meeting, it seems likely that a proposal will be forwarded to the full planning commission to add the HRIMP recommendation to the city’s master plan. Any changes to the master plan would also require city council approval. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Senior Center: Changes Reviewed

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Oct. 18, 2011): Having skipped a meeting in September, park commissioners faced a full agenda at their October session, highlighted by a consultant’s report on the Ann Arbor senior center.

Christopher Taylor, Sam Offen, Tim Doyle

Ann Arbor city councilmember Christopher Taylor, left, accepts a ballot from Tim Doyle, right, a park advisory commissioner. In the center is Sam Offen, who was re-elected as chair of PAC's budget committee. Taylor is a non-voting ex-officio member of PAC.

The report – including 16 recommendations for changes to improve the Burns Park center and senior services – is the latest in an effort that dates back to 2009, when the city considered closing the center. Suggestions include: (1) expanding programs to other locations, particularly to low-income senior housing; (2) partnering with other programs in the area, such as the popular travel program offered by Pittsfield Township’s senior center; and (3) possibly making the Burns Park facility more of a community center, and renaming it to reflect that broader mission.

Staff will be taking this report and incorporating elements of it into a strategic plan, which will be reviewed by PAC and city council before action is taken.

The meeting also included votes to recommend awarding contracts for renovations at Island Park, and support for a bioremediation pilot project at Southeast Area Park. Matt Naud, the city’s environmental coordinator, told commissioners that the test would determine the effectiveness of an approach to remove an existing vinyl chloride plume. The process would involve giving nutrients to naturally occurring microorganisms that can break down the contaminant. The plume resulted from vinyl chloride being released from the now-closed city landfill into groundwater on the south side of Ellsworth Road.

Margaret Parker, a member of the Ann Arbor public art commission (AAPAC), gave a presentation about two potential public art projects along the Huron River – at the Argo Dam bypass, and the Gallup Park canoe livery. Since the work would likely be on city-owned parkland, members of the parks staff and park advisory commission would be part of a task force for the project. Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council, also attended PAC’s meeting. She spoke in support of a more comprehensive vision for art as part of RiverUp!, an effort to improve a 104-mile stretch of the Huron River.

During public commentary, commissioners heard suggestions for several ways to improve non-motorized connections between South State and South Main streets.

The October meeting also included a review of FY 2011 and first-quarter FY 2012 financials for the parks system, and PAC’s annual election of officers. There were no deliberations, and current officers – including PAC chair Julie Grand – were re-elected unanimously. [Full Story]

Park Group Briefed on River Art Walk Proposal

Margaret Parker of the Ann Arbor public art commission (AAPAC) made a presentation on potential art projects along the Huron River during the Oct. 18, 2011 meeting of the city’s park advisory commission (PAC). [.pdf of River Art Walk proposal] The proposal had been discussed in detail at the art commission’s Aug. 24, 2011 meeting.

Parker told PAC members that two locations have been identified for possible public art along the river: (1) at Gallup Park, in conjunction with planned improvements to the canoe livery; (2) at the Argo Dam canoe bypass, which is currently under construction. A broader project for art along a much longer stretch of the river could also be developed in connection with the RiverUp! … [Full Story]

DDA Expresses Support for RiverUp!

At its Sept. 7, 2011 meeting, the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority passed a resolution expressing support of RiverUp!, a collaborative effort among several organizations – including the Huron River Watershed Council, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters – to improve the Huron River corridor.

The resolution states that the DDA will assist in wayfinding efforts that would help connect the river with visitors to the downtown, but it does not specify a budget for that effort. [For background on the RiverUp! initiative, see Chronicle coverage: "RiverUp! Focuses on Revitalizing Huron River"]

This brief was filed from the DDA offices at 150 S. Fifth Ave., where the board holds its meetings. A … [Full Story]

Work Planned at Ann Arbor’s Riverside Park

Five residents showed up to the Island Park shelter on Tuesday evening to give input on planned renovations at nearby Riverside Park, which has experienced flooding and other problems.

Eliana Moya-Raggio, Amy Kuras

Ann Arbor park planner Amy Kuras, right, shows maps of Riverside Park to neighbors who came to an information meeting on Tuesday evening at the nearby Island Park. Sitting next to her is Eliana Moya-Raggio, a resident of Wall Street. The smaller map is an overlay showing how a lot of the park, which is located next to the Huron River, is in a floodplain. (Photos by the writer.)

Park planner Amy Kuras described the park’s entrance off of Wall Street as “falling apart,” and talked through some of the proposed changes of the project. The two main changes involve relocating a parking lot and repaving Canal Street, a narrow lane that runs parallel to the park and leads to the back of the University of Michigan’s new Kellogg Eye Center building.

The project is one of many slated for fiscal year 2012 and outlined in the recently updated Parks & Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan.

Residents generally expressed support for the project, and gave suggestions for improvements. During the hour-long discussion they also raised other concerns not directly tied to the park, including increased traffic along Wall Street, additional parking lots planned by UM, and noise from delivery trucks traveling along Canal Street to Kellogg Eye Center. Similar concerns had been raised by some of these residents nearly three years ago, at a December 2008 meeting with university officials regarding planned parking along Wall Street.

Tuesday’s conversation also touched on topics that affect the surrounding area, including the need for better connections to the Border-to-Border trail system, and the status of changes planned at the Argo headrace. The city had expected to receive a state permit earlier in the day so that work could begin on the headrace, but Kuras reported that by late afternoon, it still hadn’t arrived. [Responding to a follow-up email from The Chronicle, parks & rec manager Colin Smith reported that the permit has now been received, and work on the headrace will begin on Thursday, Aug. 25. For details of that work, see Chronicle coverage: "Action on Argo Headrace, Trails Near Fuller" ]

The Riverside changes are among several slated for the city’s current fiscal year, paid for out of the parks millage and outlined in the PROS plan. Another forum is planned for Tuesday, Aug. 30 at Cobblestone Farm to talk about proposed improvements at Buhr Park. [Full Story]

RiverUp! Focuses on Revitalizing Huron River

Ann Arbor park advisory commission (July 19, 2011): A new project to shore up the ecological health and recreational infrastructure of the Huron River – and to strengthen the economies of river communities like Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti – is getting ready for its public debut in mid-August. Park commissioners were briefed on the RiverUp! effort at their July meeting, and were invited to an Aug. 16 bus tour of sites that will be given initial attention in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area.

Greek Revival shelter at Island Park in Ann Arbor

Greek Revival shelter at Island Park, where an event to launch the RiverUp! project will be held on Aug. 16. (Photos by the writer)

Elizabeth Riggs of the Huron River Watershed Council, which is coordinating the project, told PAC members that RiverUp! is spearheaded by a conservancy group called the Wolfpack. Co-founded by attorney and former Clinton advisor Paul Dimond and retired Ford executive Ray Pittman, Wolfpack members – mostly from the Ann Arbor area – have been previously focused on state issues. Now, Riggs said, they are turning their attention to a 104-mile stretch of the Huron River, starting from the north at Milford through Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and downstream to Flat Rock.

Also at their July meeting, commissioners got an update about efforts to build an Ann Arbor skatepark. They also reviewed tentative FY 2011 budget results for the parks system – finals numbers will be presented to the commission in August.

Several other topics were discussed or mentioned during the meeting, in the form of communications from staff or commissioners: (1) an update on work at Argo dam; (2) concerns over the proposed Fuller Road Station and the site design’s consideration of the Border-to-Border Trail; (3) a roughly $100,000 donation from the Henrietta Feldman trust; (4) news of the resignation of Greta Brunschwyler, executive director of the Leslie Science & Nature Center; and (5) a preview of an August agenda item regarding dog parks.

Other news regarding the Argo dam project – a $1.17 million effort to build a bypass channel in the Argo dam headrace, and to add whitewater features – emerged the week after PAC’s July 19 meeting.

A July 25 memo from city staff reports that the city was recently notified by DTE officials of upcoming remediation work that DTE plans to do in 2012 adjacent to DTE’s property on the south side of the Huron River, between Allen Creek Drain and the Broadway Bridge. The remediation is being required by the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality.

DTE is offering to pay for the whitewater feature of the Argo dam project, if the city agrees to hold off on construction of that piece until after DTE completes its remediation. Details of the offer haven’t been finalized. [Full Story]

PAC Recommends Argo Dam Bypass

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Oct. 19, 2010): Though the proposal facing park advisory commissioners wasn’t directly related to the question of whether to keep or remove Argo Dam, PAC heard from nearly a dozen people during public commentary who aired their views on that topic.

John Lawter, Dave Barrett

Dave Barrett, right, talks with fellow park advisory commissioner John Lawter prior to the start of PAC’s Oct. 19 meeting. Barrett represented PAC on a selection committee that recommended reconstruction of the Argo Dam headrace and embankment. (Photos by the writer.)

The resolution that PAC ultimately approved was a recommendation to build a bypass channel in the Argo Dam headrace for $988,170, and to add whitewater features for an additional $180,000. The $1,168,170 project would be designed by Gary Lacy of Boulder, Colo., and built by TSP Environmental, a Livonia firm.

City staff said this was the only proposal submitted that met the requirements laid out in the city’s request for proposals (RFP). The plan calls for removing the canoe portage, replacing it with a series of “drop pools” so that no portage is required. The project will also improve accessibility of the path – which is part of Washtenaw County’s Border-to-Border trail – and address problems in the headrace embankment that were identified by state officials. The work is tied to a consent agreement that the city reached with the state in May, laying out steps that the city must take to deal with some long-outstanding structural issues.

Commissioner Tim Berla voted against the resolution, calling it a “protest vote” because removal of Argo Dam hadn’t been considered as an option – that same point was made by several speakers during public commentary. Park staff has indicated that this project doesn’t preclude removing Argo Dam in the future, if that’s a decision that the community makes.

Funding for the project is available from the city’s Parks Rehabilitation & Development millage and the drinking water fund, according to city staff. An additional $50,000 might be available from the Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission, to help pay for a portion of the project related to the county’s Border-to-Border trail.

Several people – both commissioners and speakers during public commentary – questioned the appropriateness of using the water fund for this purpose, saying that Argo dam has nothing to do with drinking water. Local attorney Scott Munzel argued that using the water fund to pay for dam-related projects might be illegal, based on case law, because it’s being used as a way to skirt the Headlee Amendment. Munzel is a board member of the Huron River Watershed Council, which has lobbied vigorously to remove the dam for environmental reasons.

The proposal for reconstruction of the headrace and embankment will now be forwarded to city council.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, PAC members heard an update from parks staff about this season’s activities at the city’s three outdoor public pools – at Buhr, Fuller and Veterans Memorial parks. The former supervisor for Buhr Park Pool, Gayle LaVictoire, also gave a brief presentation to commissioners about her new job as volunteer outreach coordinator for the parks system, a newly created position.

And at the end of the meeting, Colin Smith, manager of parks and recreation, announced that the Ann Arbor Senior Center received more residents’ votes than other city facilities in a recent contest sponsored by Stonyfield Farm, and will receive $15,000 from that firm. [Full Story]

Environmental Indicators: Phosphorus

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series written by Ann Arbor city staff on the environmental indicators used by the city of Ann Arbor in its State of Our Environment Report.

The State of Our Environment Report is developed by the city’s environmental commission and designed as a citizen’s reference tool on environmental issues and as an atlas of the management strategies underway that are intended to conserve and protect our environment. The newest version of the report is organized around 10 environmental goals developed by the environmental commission and adopted by the city council in 2007.

Phosphorus periodic table

Phosphorus takes its place in the periodic table of elements with atomic number 15. Too much P is not good for the Huron River.

This installment focuses on phosphorus levels in our creeks and river. Adrienne Marino is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment and is an Environmental Programs Assistant with the city of Ann Arbor. Matthew Naud is the Environmental Coordinator at the city of Ann Arbor and can be reached at  Elizabeth Riggs with the Huron River Watershed Council and Molly Wade with the city of Ann Arbor provided additional input on the regulatory issues.

All installments of the series are available here: Environmental Indicator Series.

April showers will surely give way to May flowers and the start of lawn care season in southeast Michigan. As you tend to your lawn this spring and summer, you should know that your choices regarding lawn maintenance – especially fertilizer application – have large and measurable effects on the health of the Huron River and on the natural and human communities who depend on it.

How do we know this? The city of Ann Arbor’s ordinance regulating phosphorus-based lawn fertilizers took effect at the beginning of 2007. And sampling of Huron River phosphorus levels by University of Michigan scientists shows significant decreases in total phosphorus levels in 2008 and 2009. Huron River Watershed Council sampling of the creeksheds support these findings. [Full Story]

Sculptor Tries to Weld City, University

A William Dennisuk sculpture in progress

A student stands next to the sculpture-in-progress by William Dennisuk, in the studio of the University of Michigan School of Art & Design. When finished, the piece made of bronze rods will be flipped – its base is at the top of the photo. (Photos by the writer.)

William Dennisuk is still waiting for the state to sign off on a public art installation that could dot a stretch of the Huron River with large vase-like sculptures. As he waits, he spends most of his days in a studio, hoping to complete the project before he returns to Finland later this year.

The Chronicle first met Dennisuk – a visiting artist and lecturer at the University of Michigan School of Art & Design – when he came to the October 2009 meeting of the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission. He described his project, called Vessels, as a way to bring together the city and campus communities, and to raise awareness about how we interact with the natural world.

When The Chronicle dropped by the art school’s studio recently to get an update on the project, Dennisuk said that working through the required approval process took longer than expected. Also taking longer than projected was working through his own learning curve for some new techniques he’s trying with these sculptures.

Although he had hoped to install his artwork in April, now it looks like late May will be a more realistic goal. [Full Story]

Parking in the Parks, Art on the River

Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission meeting (Dec. 15, 2009): If projects discussed by the city’s park advisory commission move ahead, next year will bring a series of art installations to the Huron River, and turn two city parks into parking lots for University of Michigan home football games.

This image shows how wire sculptures on the Huron River might appear, if a project proposed by a University of Michigan visiting professor gets approval from the state and city. (Image courtesy of William Dennisuk.)

This image shows how wire sculptures on the Huron River might appear, if a public art project proposed by a University of Michigan visiting professor gets approval from the state and city. (Image courtesy of William Dennisuk.)

At its Dec. 15 meeting, park commissioners raised concerns but ultimately signed off on a city staff proposal to use parts of Allmendinger and Frisinger parks for football parking during the 2010 season. The plan could raise an estimated $34,000 in net revenues for the city.

In a separate move, the commission gave the go ahead for UM to apply for a state permit that’s needed to install a series of wire sculptures at four locations along the Huron River, from Argo to Gallup. It’s an ambitious project by UM visiting artist William Dennisuk, designed to bridge the town/gown communities – assuming that the project itself gets approval from the city and state.

Commissioners also got a budget update from Jayne Miller, the city’s community services director, who told them to anticipate additional cuts over the next two years, and described how that might affect parks and recreation. [Full Story]

River Report Remanded, Art Rate Reduced

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Dec. 7, 2009) Part I: Based on dialog at the city council’s budget retreat on Saturday, and the absence of any action at Monday’s council meeting to prevent it, layoff notices to 14 firefighters will be sent sometime this week.

Mayor John Hieftje also gave some additional detail on a proposal he’d mentioned at the council’s budget retreat on Saturday: an across-the-board wage cut of 3% for all city employees, which would include councilmembers.

Carsten Hohnke Ann Arbor City Council

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) presents his case for having a plan for the Huron River. (Photos by the writer)

Though the topics of firefighters and wage cuts were mentioned during the council’s communications section of the meeting, what pushed the meeting to nearly midnight were deliberations on two resolutions: (i) a three-year reduction of the Percent for Art program to effectively a “Half-Percent for Art” program, and (ii) acceptance of the Huron River and Impoundment Management Plan (HRIMP).

Both resolutions passed, though the HRIMP resolution was heavily amended. The material effect of the amendment was that it was not technically “accepted” by the council, but rather remanded to the city’s park advisory commission and the environmental commission. [Full Story]

City Council Caucus Yields More Budget Talk

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (Dec. 6, 2009): At the Sunday night caucus of the Ann Arbor city council, looming budget decisions were front and center as topics, just as they’d been the previous day at the council’s day-long retreat. [Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor City Budget: Cuts Begin Now"]

Residents who attended the caucus expressed concerns about probable firefighter layoffs, possible threats to city parks, and a Monday meeting agenda item approving $895,000 for an accounting system overhaul. In responding to residents, councilmembers mentioned an idea that Mayor John Hieftje had briefly floated at the council’s budget retreat: an across-the-board wage cut of 3% for all city employees.

Besides the accounting system overhaul, the other Monday meeting agenda item residents spoke about was the council’s “acceptance” of the Huron River and Impoundment Management Plan. Representatives of the Huron River Watershed Council encouraged the council to accept the plan. That discussion led to the topic of the city’s Percent for Art program and its legal status. The council has an item on its Monday agenda to reduce the percentage reserved from 1% to a 0.5%.

On the council side, the caucus was attended by Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). [Full Story]

Parks Update: Golf, Birds, River Art

Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission (Nov. 17, 2009): With the golf season coming to an end, the city’s Park Advisory Commission got a status report from Ann Arbor’s director of golf, Doug Kelly. He did not, however, provide a recipe for his chicken salad, which he added to the menu this summer at the two city-owned courses. Then again, no one asked – but someone did ask when the golf courses were expected to break even.

The sign for the city's Huron Hills Golf Course at the corner of Huron River Parkway and Huron River Drive. (Photo by the writer.)

The sign for the city's Huron Hills Golf Course at the corner of Huron River Parkway and Huron River Drive. Though the city's Leslie Park Golf Course closed for the season on Sunday, Huron Hills will be open "until the snow flies," according to its website. (Photo by the writer.)

Also at the meeting, PAC honored Roger Wykes, the 2009 Natural Area Preservation volunteer of the year. Wykes helps out with the city’s breeding bird survey – commissioners heard details about that project from ornithologist Dee Dea Armstrong.

And an artist who’s spending this year as a visiting lecturer at the University of Michigan made a pitch for an art installation along the Huron River – a project that he envisions will help build a bridge between the university and the community of Ann Arbor. [Full Story]

More to Meeting than Downtown Planning

Ann Arbor City Council Meeting (Nov. 16, 2009) Part II: The length of Monday’s city council meeting, which did not adjourn until nearly 1 a.m., might be blamed on the lengthy public commentary and deliberations on downtown zoning and design guidelines.

people standing taking the oath of office

Left to right: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) getting ceremonially sworn in at the start of council's Nov. 16, 2009 meeting. Standing to the left out of frame are Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). (Photo by the writer.)

But it would have been a long meeting even without the downtown planning content, which we’ve summarized in a separate report: “Downtown Planning Process Forges Ahead.”

Before postponing the acceptance of the Huron River and Impoundment Management Plan (HRIMP), the council got a detailed update on how things stand on the city’s dispute with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) over Argo Dam.

An agenda item authorizing capital improvements in West Park prompted a lengthy discussion of how the Percent for Art program works.

Some public commentary calling abstractly for greater support for inventors and entrepreneurs was followed later in the meeting by an appropriation from the city’s LDFA to Ann Arbor SPARK to fund more business acceleration services.

A consent agenda item on the purchase of parking meters was pulled out and postponed.

The council also heard a detailed report from the city administrator, which covered emergency response time to a recent house fire, ADA-compliant sidewalk ramps, responses to the library lot Request for Proposals, updates on the task forces for Mack Pool and Ann Arbor’s senior center, staff reductions in planning and development, the East Stadium bridges, as well as the upcoming budget retreat on Dec. 5.

Stephen Kunselman’s (Ward 3) use of attachments to the agenda to document questions for city staff received some critique.

Also worth noting, the five winners of recent council elections were sworn in, and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) was elected as mayor pro tem. Those topics in more detail below. [Full Story]

Huron River of Data

Big orange buoy floating next to small yellow buoy on Argo Pond in Ann Arbor Michigan

Graph of Huron River water levels on June 18, 2009 when the dam gates were opened. Late on June 19, it started raining hard. (Image links to higher resolution graph. )

Back in mid-June, Paul Christensen, who’s president of the Huron River Fly Fishing Club, gave us a heads up that some fishermen plying their craft in the waters downstream from Argo Dam – himself included – had been surprised the previous morning by a rapid rise then fall of the water levels.

Real time data on river levels and flow rates is available online from the U.S. Geological Survey website, along with archived data and a charting tool. That allowed us to get a visual snapshot of the event as measured by the gauge.

We later headed off to the dam to get a closeup view of the dam’s gates – the incident had been caused by an opening and closing of those gates. But before photographing the gates, we swung by the NEW Center, where the Huron River Watershed Council offices are located, just upstream from the dam. There we touched base with Laura Rubin, executive director of HRWC, to see what she knew about the event.

In the course of that conversation, Rubin suggested that when we went down to take our photos, we look for a new yellow buoy among the familiar line of orange buoys just in front of the dam. More on what the yellow buoy is for, plus an explanation of the gate opening-and-closing event, after the break. We’ll also give an update on where things stand with the future of Argo Dam. [Full Story]

Tottering or Walking to the River

[Editor's Note: HD, a.k.a. Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle, is also publisher of an online series of interviews on a teeter totter. Introductions to new Teeter Talks appear on The Chronicle.]

Book cover of Riverwalks by Brenda Bentley

Book cover of "Riverwalks" by Brenda Bentley.

There’s been an unintended two-month hiatus in tottering. Talking on the totter resumed last week with Brenda Bentley.

I met Brenda around this time of year standing on the Broadway Bridge – the one over the Huron River, not the one over the railroad tracks. I first thought it was last year, but my recollection is hazy.

Through that haze, I think I remember the reason I was hanging out on a bridge that’s not in my neighborhood: I was waiting for Liz Elling to pass through during her swim along the length of the Huron River.

Elling swam around a 100 miles down the Huron in July 2007. So it’s actually been two years since I first met Brenda.

On that occasion, she was taking notes for a book she was writing about walking routes that lead to the river. Consistent with my habit, I invited her to come ride the teeter totter once she completed the book. [Full Story]