GLENDALE -- Trash or treasure? Members of the public on Tuesday evening, March 22nd had an opportunity to weigh in on the controversial Estabrook Dam. Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources presented a plan to repair the dam, which the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors has approved.
DNR officials wanted to have a public record of people's feelings on the dam, so they held the public hearing. While the state would oversee dam repairs, it maintains the decision of whether the dam stays or goes must be made by Milwaukee County.
Supporters said the dam is good for recreation and property values.
Opponents said removing the dam is cheaper and better for the environment.
The public hearing was held at Glen Hills Middle School in Glendale, and it was packed.
Some said removing the 80-year-old dam is the best option, as a county estimate has that cost at about $1.7 million while repairing and operating the dam would cost about $6 million over a 20-year period.
"Removing the dam is the cheapest for the county and it`s a one-time cost and has no ongoing maintenance costs," Cheryl Nenn with Milwaukee Riverkeeper said.
Those who want the dam to stay said there is a hidden cost to removal -- legal fees from homeowners who live along the water that has pooled because of the dam.
With potentially lower property values, that could lead to lawsuits and less revenue for the county.
"If we`re not paying taxes like we live on a boatable waterfront, those properties will not be valued as much as they would be otherwise," Glen Goebel said.
Nenn believes the impact on property values has been overstated. She says benefits of a dam would keep values where they are.
"The free-flowing river generally has cleaner water, better quality water, improved fisheries, and reduced nuisance algae and improved aesthetics," Nenn said.
Repairs to the dam would include a new fish passage, which DNR officials said would address one key concern.
"The fish ladder`s the biggest thing as part of the repair. If it`s gonna be repaired, that`s a great alternative," Bill Sturtevant, Wisconsin dam safety engineer said.
Those who favor dam removal say a free-flowing river is even better for wildlife. Opponents counter that losing the pond would reduce opportunities for boating in the summer and ice skating in the winter.
On the whole, the DNR isn't taking sides on this issue. However, the candidates for Milwaukee County executive are.
Incumbent Chris Abele wasn't able to attend the public hearing on this issue. His office said he was recovering from food poisoning. A spokeswoman from his office testified on his behalf Tuesday.
It has long been Abele's position that the county should tear down Estabrook Dam.
Challenger Chris Larson previously supported the dam when he served on the County Board. He said he is now open to what the public and current research supports. If that means removing the dam, he believes he can convince a skeptical Milwaukee County Board to go along.
"We`ll work with the chairman, we`ll work with the board to set a new policy to make sure it happens by the end of the year," Larson said.
The DNR is taking written comments through April 6th.
Written comments also may be submitted through April 6, 2016, to Kristina Betzold, Department of Natural Resources, 2300 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Milwaukee, 53212, or sent by email to: DNREstabrook@wi.gov.