Milwaukee Riverkeeper
Press Release

Flip Flop Applesauce

Dysfunction Around the Estabrook Dam Continues at Milwaukee County as Finance Committee Votes to Switch County Policy on Dam. Again.

By - Jan 29th, 2015 02:49 pm
Estabrook Dam

Estabrook Dam

MILWAUKEE (Thursday, January 29, 2015) — This morning, Theo Lipscomb introduced an amendment to a 2015 capital improvement bonding resolution in front of the Finance Committee that would flip the policy of the County from removal to repair of the Estabrook Dam.  This amendment was passed by the Finance Committee, 5-2 and will need to go to the full County Board of Supervisors next week at their regular meeting on Thursday, February 5 at 9:30 a.m. to become final.  This is indicative of the nonsense and dysfunction around this issue perpetuated by a minority of Supervisors.

The County was ordered by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) to repair or abandon the dam on July 28, 2009 (following previous requests for repairs in 1995 and 2004 that went unheeded) requiring the Dam to be drawn down immediately and kept open until the Dam was repaired or abandoned due to the Dam being deemed “dangerous to life, health, and property”.  The original 2012 deadline was extended twice by WDNR to December 2014, and now, to December 2016.  Initially, the County Board set a policy of repair of Estabrook Dam due to pressure from upstream homeowners.  Since then, however, the Board of Supervisors were educated on the real costs to taxpayers and negative environmental impacts of keeping the 78 year old Dam, and the policy was switched to removal.  Now, a small group of supervisors are trying to flip the policy back to repair and completely disregard relevant information and overwhelming public support for Dam removal.

Milwaukee Riverkeeper is asking the Milwaukee County Supervisors to consider the adverse impact the Estabrook Dam has on the Milwaukee River and environment, and to remember that the Estabrook Dam was officially declared a public nuisance by Milwaukee County District Court over two years ago.  The County has an obligation under the Court’s order and a civic duty to its citizens to abate the nuisance.

Removal of Estabrook Dam is currently the only option that will permanently abate the nuisance.  Removal is best for water quality, fisheries and the taxpayer, and would restore the natural and wild aspect of the Milwaukee River in the Estabrook and Lincoln Park areas, improving recreational opportunities and improving water quality.  Overall, the ecological health created by a free flowing river offers greater long term value than maintaining the impoundment and continuing the nuisance.

Repair of the Dam is three times more expensive than dam removal when operation and maintenance costs are included over the next 20 years.  These costs do not include costs for any future dredging from sedimentation or other unplanned contingencies, such as a breach to the almost 80 year old structure.  The Dam’s estimated life expectancy is 100 years or 20 years from now.  If repaired, County taxpayers will pay more than $5.1 million now, plus a much larger amount in the future to either remove, repair, or rebuild the Dam.  In other words, we will be back here in 10, 15 or 20 years from now with a much bigger price tag if the Dam is repaired.

The majority of the general public supports removal of Estabrook Dam.  The Milwaukee County Parks Department and County Executive favor removal.  An Environmental Analysis shows that the Dam could significantly increase flooding upstream during the 100-year storm if all dam gates cannot be opened.  Historically, the Parks Department has not had staff to operate the Dam.  If electricity is lost during a storm, the gates need to be raised manually, and historically, there have been problems opening the gates. The liability for the County from the Dam is too great.

Insurance providers view the Dam as a flood risk, and property and flood insurance premiums for homeowners have sky-rocketed preventing many homes from selling in the area.  Dam removal would lower water levels during the 100 year storm by up to 1.5 feet closest to the Dam, likely reducing flood risk upstream, and the need for many homeowners to purchase costly flood insurance.

Milwaukee Riverkeeper is hopeful that the majority of the Supervisors will do the right thing for the economy, the river, property owners, and the taxpayer and abate the nuisance once and for all.

About Milwaukee Riverkeeper

Milwaukee Riverkeeper is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting water quality and wildlife habitat in the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic River watersheds. Milwaukee Riverkeeper advocates for compliance with environmental laws and is licensed by the Waterkeeper Alliance, a network with over 225 organizations worldwide dedicated to ensuring clean water and healthy communities.
For more information about Milwaukee Riverkeeper, visit

One thought on “Flip Flop Applesauce”

  1. Paul says:

    Remove the dam already. Hitting taxpayers with millions of extra costs so a few can waterski is a terrible policy and a justified reason to remove supporters from office.

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