By Dylan Deprey
The 86-year-old deteriorating Estabrook Dam may sit dormant covered in ice and snow, but tensions between advocates for both the dam’s removal and repair still burn.
Whether it is the hefty price tag, environmental and water quality issues, or the possibility for flooding and decreased property values, the debate whether to remove or repair the Estabroook Dam drags on.
A dam removal information and question session escalated into a shouting match between concerned community members at the Lincoln Park Blatz Pavilion in Glendale on Tuesday, December 20, 2016.
The information session came after the County submitted a DNR Transfer Application on Dec. 16. The DNR application required a thirty-day public notice of intent for the transfer of the rezoned Estabrook Park and Dam portion.
“Although we were not required to have a public information session we wanted a session to explain what the transfer permit has been applied for, and what it looks like,” said Teig Whaley-Smith, Director for Department of Administrative Services.
The City of Milwaukee’s Dam Removal plan was released in early October by the city, county and MMSD.
Whaley-Smith explained the multi-step plan, which first involved the city of Milwaukee to rezone Estabrook Park, so the land could be sold to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewer District (MMSD) for $1.
The Milwaukee Common council approved the temporary rezoning for the dam transfer on Nov. 1.
Once bought, MMSD would then immediately transfer Estabrook Park back to Milwaukee County as it worked on removing the dam.
Once MMSD obtained the necessary DNR permits, and located grant funding to cover the cost, it would then remove the dam. Once removed the area would then be transferred back to the County after being rezoned as a park by the City.
According to the plan its stated that removal costs were estimated around $1.7 million, while repairing the dam would cost $4.1 million along with $120,000 in annual operating costs.
MMSD has recently found a grant in early December from the Fund for Lake Michigan worth $250,000.
For Milwaukee Riverkeeper’s Cheryl Nenn, the DNR transfer application is another step closer in the fifteen-year long battle she has fought to remove the Dam.
In 2009, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) ordered Milwaukee County to open the dam gates until the County repaired or abandoned dam because of hazardous conditions due to the lack of mandatory maintenance on the dam.
“It’s been slowly falling apart, it’s over 80 years old, and the County has failed to operate and maintain it,” Nenn said.
In 2012, the Milwaukee Riverkeeper sued Milwaukee County for failure to operate and maintain the Dam in a good working condition, which resulted in the Wisconsin dam declared a public nuisance.
“We think the best thing to do for the river, and really the tax payer is to remove the dam,” Nenn said. “It is a far better option for the river, water quality and for fisheries.”
Nenn added that the Milwaukee Riverkeeper stands with the County, and trusts MMSD with their experience in managing flooding and stream restoration.
Another Story Upstream
“Who is going to pay for this? We are worried about the flooding this Spring,” shouted concerned property owners and members of the Milwaukee River Preservation Association (MRPA).
While there is a thirty-day notice of intent for the DNR application, the MRPA and Glendale residents have concern for possible flooding.
The MRPA said a landmass created by the dam gates being open over the past 8 years has caused buildup that could potentially cause flooding in the upcoming Spring, as reported by the North Shore Now.
“One of them has grown to an alarming size and is blocking 71 percent of the main river channel into Lincoln Park and restricting the waterflow capacity,” said MRPA President Tammy Blaeske in the article.
The question of buildups and flooding in the future came up multiple times during the meeting. MMSD Executive Director Kevin Shaffer said analysis is still being conducted, and that the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) will investigate sediment build up.
“We can’t make promises upstream until the analysis is complete,” Shaffer said. “We don’t know where the floodplain is going to be, or if the property lines is going end up against the ordinary watermark.”
County Supervisor Theodore Lipscomb, also a resident, was in attendance. He added that the way a law was used to bypass the County Board and to multiple risks of dam removal left residents extremely uncertain state.
“You haven’t said you are committed to paying for it (build up removal), and we are not sure on what timeline you are going to do that, and people are worried what’s going to happen in Spring, just months away,” Lipscomb said.
Resident and Glendale Chamber of Commerce Vice President Dale Schmidt said that after leaving the floodgates open for the past eight years, the overgrowth that has taken over were just a mere fraction of what it would be in the future.
“There are areas where the water has completely dropped. We were told the water would be cleaner, it’s not. It’s shallow and the fish are dying, and islands have formed from exposed river bottoms,” Schmidt said.
He added that costly flood insurance required by for homeowners would add to the burden as the lowering water levels would later evolve into swampland rendering it useless. And Now We Wait
“Can the people in favor of repairs just let the meeting run?” asked a woman in the crowd.
“We are here about the flooding, not the dam!” shouted another.
“Just shut up lady!” yelled a man from the back. The tension peaked and quickly subsided following the crowd’s outburst.
As the final questions were answered and the meeting adjourned some left ecstatic to hear the updates on dam removal, while others felt uncertain.
“It is unusual to have MMSD, the City of Milwaukee, the village of Shorewood, state DNR and all these environmental groups support removal, but it is good to have this process,” Abele said. “I would always prefer to have a lot of people show up to a public meeting then an empty room.”