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Construction outside of the U-M Museum of Art

Underground Art

A campus sculpture's "summer break" brings an environmental bonus.

by Julie Halpert

From the June, 2018 issue

Mark di Suvero's Orion was in the way of a major underground construction project. When the red-steel tripod returns to its spot outside the U-M Museum of Art in September, it will sit atop a $4.5 million storm-water infiltration facility.

"The university's commitment to stormwater management supports U-M's 2025 campus sustainability goal to reduce runoff to the Huron River," emails university planner Sue Gott. The system will accommodate roughly 750,000 gallons of water at a time, diverting it from the often-overwhelmed Allen Creek Drain and reducing the risk of flooding at nearby Tisch Hall and other university buildings.

The U-M is doing this voluntarily, not in order to meet any permit requirements. The city and county have adopted aggressive programs to add runoff mitigation measures during redevelopment projects, but those aren't binding on the university, which operates as an independent local government. Three years ago, after the U-M failed to incorporate mitigation in the new Munger Graduate Residences, county water resources commissioner Evan Pratt and other officials harshly criticized the university for failing to follow their lead ("Storm Over the U-M," June 2015).

Pratt applauds the university's latest efforts. "Awesome! Sounds like the work of leaders and best," he emailed Steve O'Rielly, the university's manager of Environmental Protection and Permitting. Craig Hupy, the city's public services area administrator, emails: "The city is pleased with the proposed project and the positive impact it will have on the Allen Creek Watershed."

Andrew Berki, director of the U-M's Office of Campus Sustainability, notified the city, the county, and the Huron River Watershed Council about the project in an April email. Laura Rubin, the Huron River Watershed Council executive director, who also criticized the university's previous recalcitrance, says that email contained information about other initiatives the university had undertaken over the past three years to improve storm-water that she wasn't even aware of, including an infiltration basin installed beneath Ingalls Mall in 2016.

Like Pratt, she's thrilled. The State St. facility

...continued below...

is "a wonderful project," she says. "It will capture a lot of storm-water in an area that is highly developed and has had problems with flooding. This will reduce flooding, help remove pollutants, and take a load off of the city's storm-water systems."

While Pratt appreciates the strides the university is making, he says "there is more to be done." He says it's not clear how much of the 3,200 acres that the university owns in the city has any runoff management or what those management features are. He'd like to see the university join the city, the watershed council, and others to discuss mutual problems, big-picture goals, and efforts each would be willing to take on. "It's about recognizing the impact we have on ourselves and our neighbors," he says.

Rubin says it would be helpful to know the university's overall reduction targets and strategies for storm-water runoff: "It would be nice to get some kind of goal set, similar to emission reduction targets."

If the university's newfound spirit of environmental cooperation includes such targets, it's not saying. The Observer's questions about specific sustainability goals went unanswered.     (end of article)

[Originally published in June, 2018.]


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