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Friday March 06, 2015
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The Argo Cascades: Wild Ride



Since the 1830s, the Huron has been dammed here. The present dam, built to supply Detroit Edison's hydropower plant on Broadway, turns 100 this year. But Edison shut down the plant in 1959, turning the headrace feeding it into a dead end. Since then, its only use has been to provide paddlers with a way around Argo Dam. It was neither the easiest nor the prettiest stretch of a river trip, but after ducking under a low pedestrian bridge, they could make their way along the millrace to a steep portage where they could return to the river.

The portage was bothersome to all and difficult for some. And drained only by a small spillway at the end, the water in the headrace grew stagnant. What's worse, it began seeping through the embankment. In 2004, a state safety inspection found the big dirt wall was badly eroding, raising the prospect of a catastrophic failure. Something had to be done.

A vigorous debate ensued over whether Argo Dam should be removed entirely. But well-organized supporters, led by the rowing community on Argo Pond, staved off the Huron River Watershed Council and other dam-removal advocates. Finally the state, which regulates dams, ordered the city to improve the toe drains along the embankment to prevent its collapse.

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