Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Free the Huron River

If there were any kind of newspaper left in this city, the following would be an opinion piece or a long letter to the editor...

A very vocal group of citizens in my town (many of them my near and much-respected neighbors) has become very vocal in their support of leaving the aging Argo dam in place. This dam is at the end of my street, so it hits pretty close to home for me, as I kayak the waters behind the dam a few times every week when the pond isn't frozen. The state of Michigan says the city has to remove or repair it, and and the local watershed council has strongly recommended removal. My neighbors have framed their position on this issue with yard signs that say "Save Argo Pond."

By doing so they directly reference many other similar campaigns we have become familiar with: "save the whales", "save the Hudson", "save orchestra hall"...in each of these cases, though, there is a natural feature or a historic building or a community asset that is perceived to be threatened by destructive forces that are in the wrong, and there is a call for us to step up into individual responsibility to protect something that should not be destroyed. In this case however, there is a reversal I find ironic--the "save the" argument is being used in the service of the preservation of an aging dam that is proven to be bad for the health of the river, and at great expense to the city.

The city council is not meant only to make decisions based on the desires of narrowly defined economic elite, nor even on the basis of their perception of what the majority of their constituents want. Still less are they [you] meant to develop that perception based on who seems to be shouting the loudest, though it seems that that is often the most politically expedient thing to do. You [they] are also meant to serve as stewards for the all the lands of the city, the whole environment that those lands entail, the same environment that supports our human lives, and countless others.

If a group of people got signs printed saying "more toxic waste dumping," even if they seemed to be in the majority, even if they included the past president of the Downtown Development Authority or the chamber of commerce, it would be incumbent upon you [us] to say "no, that is not in the best interest of the whole community, and not in the best interest of the environment that supports our community."

In this way, the Huron river itself is like one of your constituents, or rather, like one of your charges--something that needs to be cared for and preserved as an essential part of our lives (it literally flows through the veins of everyone in this town)--but it can't speak for itself. Though I'm all in favor of recreation and cardiovascular health, I don't think the rowing team's reluctance to relocate, or the desire to keep Barton pond clear of rowing shells for the rich folks is enough reason to insist on going to great city expense to keep the river sick.

The Huron river is sick. It is sick because of what we have done to it. We cannot expect to keep making the environment upon which we depend for our existence sick, and somehow expect to be well ourselves. I urge you [everyone] to act as stewards, and to do what you know is right, even if it is hard: we must free the Huron river.

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