Compiled By The Courier Staff
Over the last year, there has been a lot of discussion and debate about the future of Estabrook Dam. The Dam was built in the 1930s to create an artificial lake for recreation in the Milwaukee River and has now fallen into disrepair.
It was featured prominently in the County Executive race between Chris Abele and Chris Larson. There was a campaign commercial about it. There has been TV news stories about it. There have been articles in the Journal Sentinel and Facebook posts about it.
Through all of this, you might think, why should I care? There are serious issues affecting our city, but so much time, energy and attention is expended on this dam. The dam likely doesn’t sit in your neighborhood. Most people don’t live along the Milwaukee River, and you may not care one bit if there’s anything blocking fish from traveling upstream. The fact of the matter is everything our local governments spend money on affects us, and we have a right to make sure they spend it in a way that supports our community.
Repairing this dam would not support our community and, to the contrary, is an example of how our taxes are wasted at a time when we need them spent wisely.
Now, finally, the County Executive, Mayor and Director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) have a plan to settle the matter for good. The City of Milwaukee will rezone the area around the dam so the County can sell the dam to MMSD, who will in turn remove it.
The dam is in such bad shape that the County has been ordered to either repair or remove it. The County Board, driven by the leadership of Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb (who it’s worth noting lives in the neighborhood that benefits from the artificial lake created when the dam is functioning), has ordered the County Executive and Parks Department to repair the dam. To his credit, County Executive Chris Abele has pushed back on them at every opportunity, but has not been able to reverse the Board’s official policy.
The problem is that repairing the dam will cost over $4 million, while tearing it down would cost under $2 million, most of which would be covered by grants and not cost us taxpayers anything. Think about that. Without this new plan to sell the dam to MMSD, who would then tear it down, the County would be forced to spend millions of dollars on a project that’s only purpose is to intentionally flood a park so a small number of people in the North Shore area can have a fake lake in their neighborhood.
Two million dollars is a lot of money that could be spent in neighborhoods all over the city, where there is a very real need for community development and investment.
To put that huge amount of money into perspective, here’s what $2 million can buy in our parks: 7 new playgrounds, 10 to 13 basketball courts and baseball diamonds, or 10 pavilions. In fact, the entire Moody Park revitalization project cost about $2 million. That project turned a blighted park with a shuttered pool house and no activities into a beautiful space with an interactive splash-pad, walking path, basketball courts, a community room and field space for youth activities.
That project was the product partnership between the County and the neighborhood to ensure the needs and desires of residents were met. Moody Park is now a symbol of the Amani neighborhood’s bright future and the amazing things that can happen when we work with local government and hold them accountable to investing in our neighborhoods and us. The controversy around the Estabrook Dam may seem unimportant, far away, or silly.
It may not even be on your radar. But we need to care. We in Milwaukee are in need of support and investment and because of that need to care about how all of our tax dollars are spent.
We need to push for those taxes to be spent where there is the greatest need and where they will have the greatest impact. Clearly, repairing the dam does not represent the greatest need, or the greatest impact.
That’s why this newspaper supports the plan to remove the dam. If we don’t demand a change, then we won’t see one.
We urge our readers to contact their representative on the Common Council in support of the plan to remove the dam. And in the future, remind the County Board that we want policies, which spend our hard-earned tax dollars supporting us and addressing the serious needs of this community.