Stories indexed with the term ‘Huron River Watershed Council’

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]

Greenbelt Group Briefed on Bioreserve

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Feb. 6, 2014): Kris Olsson, an ecologist with the Huron River Watershed Council, was on hand at GAC’s meeting to provide commissioners with an overview of the HRWC’s bioreserve project.

Kris Olsson, Huron River Watershed Council, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Kris Olsson, a watershed ecologist with the Huron River Watershed Council, at the Feb. 6, 2014 meeting of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission. (Photos by the writer.)

The aim of the project is to map, prioritize and encourage protection of the remaining natural areas in the Huron River watershed. The entire watershed covers about 994,000 acres. Of that about 247,000 acres are in the bioreserve. More than 1,700 sites have been mapped as potential natural areas.

The Ann Arbor greenbelt program is one of several partners in the project. Olsson told commissioners that the HRWC hopes this data is used to help land preservation programs like the greenbelt make informed decisions about how to protect natural areas.

Also during the Feb. 6 meeting, Ginny Trocchio – who provides staff support for the greenbelt program – briefed commissioners on the screening and scoring criteria used to review potential acquisitions for the greenbelt program. She reviewed characteristics that result in higher scores for property. For example, sites that receive higher scores have 3-4 natural features (stream corridors, woodlots or rare species), are located within 1 mile of the Ann Arbor city limits, and are located within a township or village that has passed a purchase-of-development-rights (PDR) ordinance.

Trocchio also reported that work on the greenbelt program’s new landowner registry is continuing.

The 90-minute meeting included a closed session lasting about 30 minutes. No votes were taken on potential land deals after commissioners emerged from closed session. [Full Story]

Art Commission Updated on Program Revamp

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Feb. 27, 2013): Much of this month’s public art commission meeting was spent discussing the work of a city council committee that’s developing recommendations for changes to Ann Arbor’s public art program.

Marsha Chamberlin, Deb Gosselin, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Marsha Chamberlin, chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission, and Deb Gosselin, who handles the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP). Gosselin attended AAPAC’s Feb. 27 meeting to talk about the CIP process, which the commission is using as a planning tool for future public art projects. (Photos by the writer.)

Sabra Briere, who’s one of five city councilmembers on the committee, updated AAPAC on possible revisions to the city’s public art ordinance, as well as more general recommendations that are being prepared for the full council. Those proposed changes are likely to include eliminating the Percent for Art funding mechanism, creating a structure to solicit private donations and grants to support public art, directing staff to “bake in” artwork and architectural enhancements as part of overall city capital projects, and providing more administrative support – perhaps by contracting out those services.

AAPAC members had questions about the possible new approach, including questions about the commission’s own role. Briere advised them to continue working on existing projects that are funded through the Percent for Art approach, but noted that they should focus on future opportunities that don’t rely on Percent for Art funds.

The council committee continues to meet, and will eventually deliver recommendations and draft ordinance changes to the full council. This Chronicle report includes highlights from the committee’s most recent meeting on March 1. The committee next meets on March 15, before the council’s March 18 meeting. A moratorium on spending unallocated Percent for Art dollars expires on April 1.

In other action at AAPAC’s February meeting, commissioners heard from Jason Frenzel, stewardship coordinator for the Huron River Watershed Council, about a project that would raise awareness of how the city’s stormdrain system connects to the river. The project is proposed in two stages, starting with a chalk art contest at the June 14 Green Fair, during which artists would draw images and messaging around stormdrains on Main Street.

Commissioners also discussed how to move forward with a proposed memorial to Coleman Jewett – a bronze Adirondack chair at the Ann Arbor farmers market. A private donor has already committed $5,000 to the memorial, but details are still being worked out about how to manage the project. AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin indicated that she might call a special meeting in early March for commissioners to act on the proposal, which hasn’t formally been accepted by AAPAC. Update: The special meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, March 7 at 4:30 p.m. in the fifth-floor conference room at city hall, 301 E. Huron.

Other project updates were made via a written report from Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator. The report stated that a task force has selected four artists as finalists for artwork on the East Stadium bridges, and they have been invited to an April 1 site visit/open house. The finalists are: Volkan Alkanoglu, based in Atlanta, Georgia; Sheila Klein of Bow, Washington; Rebar Group of San Francisco; and Catherine Widgery of Cambridge, Mass. The project has a budget of $400,000.

Only four commissioners attended the Feb. 27 meeting, and when one commissioner left early, the meeting was adjourned for lack of a quorum – before all agenda items were addressed. In part because of attendance issues, officer elections – which AAPAC bylaws state should happen in January – have not yet occurred. Ballots were mailed to commissioners last week, and results will be announced at AAPAC’s March 27 meeting. It’s expected that vice chair Malverne Winborne will be elected chair.

And although it was not discussed at the meeting, Cathy Gendron resigned from AAPAC in late February. She had been reappointed to AAPAC at the city council’s Jan. 7, 2013 meeting for a term through Jan. 20, 2016, but had not attended the commission’s January or February meetings.

Responding to a Chronicle query, Gendron stated in an email that she had agreed to stay on the commission through March, but would be unable to attend AAPAC meetings and decided to resign. ”It’s time for someone else to take my place.” There are now three vacancies on the nine-member commission. [Full Story]

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]

Sustaining Ann Arbor’s Environmental Quality

Ann Arbor city staff and others involved in resource management – water, solid waste, the urban forest and natural areas – spoke to a crowd of about 100 people on Jan. 12 to highlight work being done to make the region more environmentally sustainable.

Matt Naud

Matt Naud, Ann Arbor's environmental coordinator, moderated a panel discussion on resource management – the topic of the first in a series of four sustainability forums, all to be held at the Ann Arbor District Library. (Photos by the writer.)

It was the first of four public forums, and part of a broader sustainability initiative that started informally nearly two years ago, with a joint meeting of the city’s planning, environmental and energy commissions. The idea is to help shape decisions by looking at a triple bottom line: environmental quality, economic vitality, and social equity.

In early 2011, the city received a $95,000 grant from the Home Depot Foundation to fund a formal sustainability project. The project’s main goal is to review the city’s existing plans and organize them into a framework of goals, objectives and indicators that can guide future planning and policy. Other goals include improving access to the city’s plans and to the sustainability components of each plan, and to incorporate the concept of sustainability into city planning and future city plans.

In addition to city staff, this work has been guided by volunteers who serve on four city advisory commissions: Park, planning, energy and environmental. Many of those members attended the Jan. 12 forum, which was held at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library.

The topics of the forums reflect four general themes that have been identified to shape the sustainability framework: Resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community. The Jan. 12 panel on resource management was moderated by Matt Naud, the city’s environmental coordinator. Panelists included Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council (and a member of the city’s greenbelt advisory commission); Kerry Gray, the city’s urban forest and natural resource planning coordinator; Jason Tallant of the city’s natural area preservation program; Tom McMurtrie, Ann Arbor’s solid waste coordinator, who oversees the city’s recycling program; and Chris Graham, chair of the city’s environmental commission.

Dick Norton, chair of the University of Michigan urban and regional planning program, also participated by giving an overview of sustainability issues and challenges that local governments face. [The university has its own sustainability initiative, including broad goals announced by president Mary Sue Coleman last fall.]

The Jan. 12 forum also included opportunities for questions and comments from the audience. That commentary covered a wide range of topics, from concerns over Fuller Road Station and potential uses for the Library Lot, to suggestions for improving the city’s recycling and composting programs. Even the issue of Argo Dam was raised. The controversy over whether to remove the dam spiked in 2010, but abated after the city council didn’t vote on the question, thereby making a de facto decision to keep the dam in place.

Naud said he’s often joked that the only sure way to get 100 people to come to a meeting is to say the topic is a dam – but this forum had proven him wrong. The city is interested in hearing from residents, he said: What sustainability issues are important? How would people like to be engaged in these community discussions?

The forum was videotaped by AADL staff and will be posted on the library’s website. Additional background on the Ann Arbor sustainability initiative is on the city’s website. See also Chronicle coverage: “Building a Sustainable Ann Arbor,” and an update on the project given at the November 2011 park advisory commission meeting. [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]

Finally a Dam Decision on Argo?

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday night caucus (Oct. 18, 2009): At its Sunday night caucus, Ann Arbor city council members heard from only a couple of residents who actually spoke in favor of keeping Argo Dam in place.

Piezometer installed in mid-September along the earthen berm separating the Argo Dam headrace from the river. (Photo by the writer)

But those speakers were supported by the presence of almost two dozen others who attended the regular Sunday evening affair, to make clear that they also supported a resolution on the dam – which was added to Monday’s Oct. 19 agenda on Friday, Oct. 16.

Monday’s resolution, which is sponsored by Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), and Sandi Smith (Ward 1), expresses the intent of city council to keep the dam in place. [Text of the resolution]

At caucus, one of the voices of dissent on the resolution belonged to Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council. She told the three councilmembers present – Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) – that there’d been an expectation that the city council would follow the example of the city’s Park Advisory Commission and the Environmental Commission by holding a formal public hearing on the vote.

The resolution on Monday’s agenda does not include a public hearing.

After the caucus concluded, Rubin told The Chronicle that the expectation of a city council public hearing was based on a hearing that had been planned for July 6, 2009, but that was canceled when the council decided to ask the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for more time to decide. We had a look at The Chronicle archives to verify that contention.

Other caucus topics addressed by residents included a crosswalk to be installed at the intersection of Waldenwood and Penberton drives and a request for an update on the East Stadium bridges. Council will consider a resolution on Monday to follow the advice of an outside engineering consultant to proceed with removal of bridge beams supporting the southern lanes, which are currently closed to traffic. [Full Story]

Runoff Lemonade, Poop in the Watershed

Students and teachers from Northside Elementary. Two classes had entries in the Millers Creek Film Festival.

A photo op for students and teachers from Northside Elementary at the Michigan Theater. These fourth and fifth grade students had entries in the Millers Creek Film Festival.

It’s not an image you see on the big screen every day: Close-up shots of dogs pooping, and then of their turds being plopped into an otherwise clear glass of water.

Funny, memorable and making a point – this is what happens (albeit less graphically) when you don’t pick up your dog’s excrement and it finds its way into the Huron River watershed. And by making the point this way, Nani Wolf, a fifth grader at Emerson School, won an award at the 2009 Millers Creek Film Festival.

About 350 people gathered on Friday afternoon, March 13, to see the festival entries at the Michigan Theater. (If you missed it, the winners will eventually be posted on YouTube. Here’s a link to last year’s winners.)

The event, now in its fourth year, is a way for the nonprofit Huron River Watershed Council to promote the importance of stewardship to the river and its tributaries, including Millers Creek. The festival’s three categories are short films (less than five minutes) from adult filmmakers, short films from school-age filmmakers, and 30-second public service announcements. [Full Story]