The Estabrook Dam may officially be coming down. This after the Milwaukee Common Council voted Tuesday to rezone the land, paving the way for its removal.
With the vote, County Executive Chris Abele can now sell the land to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, the agency that would remove the dam starting sometime in 2017. Expected completion of the removal would be in early 2018.
"I was really excited when the initiative passed today," said Mark Yencheske, who supports the dam's removal. "It's unhealthy for the river and it also saves the taxpayers a lot of money."
- SPECIAL SECTION: DECISION 2016
The dam was installed in the 1930s and has deteriorated over the years. Abele and the county board of supervisors have disputed over the dam for years, with Abele supporting its removal and the board supporting repairs.
Removal will cost an estimated $1.7 million while repairs could reach more than $4 million.
"I'm thrilled and I'm grateful for the leadership of the mayor and common council and look forward to continuing the partnership and protecting the park and restoring the natural flow of a beautiful river," Abele said.
A group of more than 160 Glendale residents opposed the dam's removal, citing concerns over flood risk and their property values.
A statement from the lawyer representing that group reads:
“We are disappointed in the common council decision to re-zone 45.7 acres of Milwaukee County Park Lands for the purpose of political chicanery. The scheme being executed by the County Executive fails to be in the best interest of Milwaukee County residents. The removal of the Estabrook Dam will significantly lower the water levels therein causing irreversible environmental damage to the habitats and mating patterns of the Milwaukee River fish, water fowl and aquatic species. The Dam removal will ultimately cost the taxpayers of Milwaukee County an amount exceeding $20 million dollars as the MMSD does not qualify for any federal or municipal grants, and reparations are required for impacted riparian property owners. We intend to proceed with an injunction action in the court system to establish that the County Executive is statutorily enjoined from unilaterally selling Milwaukee County Park Lands.”
That group filed an injunction on Friday trying to stop Tuesday's vote from happening. A Milwaukee County judge denied that request. The group claims that the sale of the land violates a 2015 law that lets the County Executive sell nonpark land without the board's consent.
Abele said he's confident there won't be any additional roadblocks to remove the dam.
"There are very few policy issues that you can't easily get a broad range of opinions on and for those of us in public office, I think it behooves us to not just get all opinions but to get the most qualified ones we can," he said. "MMSD is in the business of flood management and they have a lot of full-time professionals and experts and they've produced plenty of research to show to back up their opinion which is that you lower flood risk."
Abele also pointed to the North Avenue Dam and said there was similar controversy when its removal was proposed but ultimately, the removal increased property values in the area, led to cleaner water and more fish species.