12-2 vote: Common Council in favor of plan to rezone, remove Estabrook Dam

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Estabrook Dam

MILWAUKEE — The Estabrook Dam’s days could be numbered following a vote by the Milwaukee Common Council.

The full Common Council voted 12-2 Tuesday, November 1st in favor of a plan to rezone the deteriorating dam. This, after a 3-0 vote by the Milwaukee Common Council’s Zoning Committee.

The plan for the dam was released on October 3rd by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, aldermen and a representative from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

According to a statement from Abele’s office, MMSD voted to approve the plan in September.

The plan to remove the Estabrook dam would require the following steps:

  • Rezoning – The land that surrounds the dam will be rezoned by the city of Milwaukee, which will change the oversight to a three-member panel, including the county executive, the county comptroller and a representative of the city of Milwaukee. This panel has authority to sell public works properties through a majority vote.
  • Selling the dam – Once the dam is rezoned by the city of Milwaukee, it will be sold to MMSD for $1. The MOU between Milwaukee County (the seller) and MMSD (the buyer) will include the following provisions:
  • The dam will be sold for $1
  • Parkland will remain in public custody
  • The dam is sold under the condition that it will be removed by MMSD
  • The county will continue to operate and maintain the dam and the surrounding park land
  • The county will continue to provide park programming for Estabrook Park
  • Removal of the dam – MMSD will be responsible for removing the dam once it obtains the necessary DNR permits. MMSD has experience and expertise in taking on large scale projects. MMSD will seek grant funds to pay for removal but initially will allocate funds that would have been otherwise allocated for a different county project.

Supporters of the Estabrook dam, in favor of repairing it, believe it’s good for recreation and property values.

Opponents of the Estabrook dam, in favor of removing it, believe the dam is a flood risk and public nuisance. They believe removal would be cheaper and better for the environment.

The statement from the County Executive’s Office indicates the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has declared the dam a public nuisance, and Milwaukee County, as the owner and operator of the dam, is required to solve the nuisance conditions.

The statement indicates it would cost more (at least $4.1 million — $600,000 more than the county has available and not including ongoing maintenance costs) to repair the dam than it would to remove it (a one-time cost of $1.7 million, which would be mostly covered by grants, according to Abele’s office).

City and county leaders say removing the dam would eliminate an eyesore and litter found in the river — and curb the flood risk.

Demolition is expected to begin in 2017, according to Abele’s office.

“Within a year-and-a-half, two years, when you’re there — what you’ll look at is not a falling apart dam. You’re going to look at a natural, beautiful, clean river, with water that’s nice, with property values coming up, less flood risk and happy that you don’t have to pay nature to be nature,” Abele said after the committee vote Tuesday.