Estabrook Dam Removal
On May 24th 2012, Milwaukee Riverkeeper prevailed on its motion for summary judgment against Milwaukee County for its failure to maintain the Estabrook Dam in good repair and condition, as required by Wisconsin law and the Public Trust Doctrine.
The Milwaukee County Circuit Court found that the Estabrook Dam is a public nuisance that must be abated, and further ordered the County to submit a proposal to abate the nuisance to Milwaukee Riverkeeper and the Court within the next 30 days.
The Court's ruling firmly establishes that citizens may sue to enforce public trust violations, irrespective of any action or inaction of the Department of Natural Resources. Moreover, the ruling sets the stage for Milwaukee Riverkeeper to achieve its ultimate goal - removal of the Estabrook Dam!
We will keep you posted on Milwaukee County's proposal and our next steps to bring down the dam.
*For now, check out the news report about the Judge's ruling in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. And, listen to the Lake Effect story about the issue from Milwaukee Public Radio, featuring yours truly, Milwaukee Riverkeeper.
- Summary of position on Estabrook Dam
- Full position paper on Estabrook Dam
- Supporters of Riverkeeper's Estabrook Dam position
- Estabrook Dam Debate Fox 6 News
- Journal-Sentinel Editorial Agrees: Estabrook Hydropower "Of Questionable Value"
- Op-ed in Journal Sentinel
- Journal Sentinel reports that removing Estabrook Dam will save lots of money
- DNR disapproves of board's $5,000 Estabrook Dam fix
- Photographs of Dam removals - before and after [PDF]
- Milwaukee County report on dam featuring cost/benefits analysis [PDF]
- Matrix showing dam removal options [PDF]
- Taking a second look: Communities and Dam Removal (video)
Contact: Cheryl Nenn, (414) 287-0207 ext. 229
The Estabrook Dam was put into service in 1937 to elevate water levels in the Lincoln Park area after a prior project to blast bedrock from the bed of the river to minimize flooding drastically reduced water levels. The Dam creates an impoundment or small lake behind it that has been loved by local residents, and used by both motorized and non-motorized users alike as a recreational area.
Long History of Neglect
Unfortunately, the Estabrook Dam has been on a long decline in the past several decades, and Milwaukee County has not addressed several outstanding maintenance and repair requirements per State Dam Safety regulations. Past problems needing repair have been identified in Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) dam safety inspection reports, dated January 23, 1995 and November 22, 2004, and in a revised repair schedule, dated October 16, 2007. Milwaukee County had not completed a significant number of maintenance and repair items as identified in the 1995 and 2004 inspection reports. Thus in September 26, 2008, the WNDR issued the County an “Order to Repair” the dam, which required drawdown of the dam for inspection (e.g. gates opened and water levels reduced) and stated that the impoundment should not be refilled until several critical repairs were completed.
Nearly a year later, on July 28, 2009, WDNR issued a “Formal Order to Repair or Abandon” requiring that the dam to be drawn down immediately and kept open until all formal repairs are complete due to the Dam being deemed “dangerous to life, health, and property”. The Order required a stability analysis by October 2010. The County was also required to provide written notification to WDNR of the County’s intent to repair or abandon by January 29, 2011 (with plans and specifications approved by July 29, 2011, and ultimate repairs done by July 27, 2012). The County did not meet the January deadline to notify the WDNR of their intent to repair or remove the dam. They essentially provided a letter stated that they were making progress on coming to a formal decision. The fact that the County Board can’t even come to a decision on whether to repair or abandon is foreboding of their continued inability to manage this structure, which should it fail could cause loss of human life and property.
Engineering Studies and Cost Estimates
The County has actually commissioned two separate studies on the Dam: one engineering evaluation in September 2006 by STS Consultants, and a separate structural engineering study by AECOM (the same firm with a name change) in September of 2010.
Costs to Repair:
• The recent AECOM report estimates the cost of repairing the dam at $1.5 million. This is considerably less than the estimates from the first study, and is within the $2.1 million appropriated by the County Board in the 2010 Adopted Budget for Capital Improvements and removal of debris and comingled sediment behind the dam (this puts load on the dam and must be removed prior to operating it again).
• The report also estimates that sediment removal from directly behind the fixed crest spillway to be $2 million, but advises that more sediment be removed to minimize recontamination of the area and contribute match to a Federal Great Lakes Legacy Act project upstream, which is removing contaminated sediments in Lincoln Park. This total sediment remediation cost is $3.5 million (including $2 million cost above). Funding for sediment removal, which is not bond eligible, has not been appropriated by the County within the 2011 Adopted Budget.
• In addition, the 2011 budget does not include funding for annual operation and maintenance of the dam (estimated by AECOM at $ 80,000/year or $1.3 million over the next 20 years).The report emphasizes that proper operation and maintenance needs to be funded or the dam will not last for 20 years.
• Thus, total costs to keep the dam include $4.8 Million to $6.3 Million depending on amount of sediment removed. These costs do not include likely expenses of constructing a fish ladder (as noted below under Operational Order), which could add $1 Million to project costs. Estimates also do not include costs for accessing private property and acquiring easements to access dam from western bank of the Milwaukee River.
Cost to Remove:
• Estimates for dam removal would include the same sediment costs above, plus expenses for removal. There would also be similar expenses for acquiring easements on private property.
• Unfortunately, the County Board told AECOM to not evaluate costs for removal so we don’t have recent estimates at this time. Past engineering estimates from STS and County staff in 2006 estimated removal costs at $650,000 with an additional $600,000 for reestablishment of vegetation and bank stabilization. It is important to note there are good state and federal funding sources for dam removal and few grants available for dam repair.
• In addition, removing the dam would eliminate nearly $1.3 million in maintenance costs as well as liability. See County’s own Pro/Con Analysis on Estabrook Dam Alternatives.
Operational Order Process
Should Milwaukee County decide to keep the dam, then they would need to work with the WDNR to establish an operational order. The operational order would develop and clarify water levels that would need to be established and specify operational standards. This would require preparation of an environmental assessment, and holding a public informational meeting. It is likely the WDNR would require what is considered “full pool” operation, where the dam remains permanently closed, as environmental impacts from opening and closing the dam several times a year has been very bad for river ecology. If WDNR were to require full pool condition than Riverkeeper would push for construction of a fish ladder to provide fish passage. County engineering estimates do not include funds for a fish ladder, which could be costly or up to an estimated $1 Million (based on upstream projects). Not funding a fish ladder would be unacceptable as over $7 Million in fish passage improvements (e.g. dam removals, fish passage structures) has been spent upstream in Ozaukee County to improve fish passage. These improvements would be negated by maintaining this dam in a full pool condition without a fish ladder.
Conclusion and Talking Points
• The costs of repairing, replacing, and maintaining the dam in the long run will greatly exceed the costs of removing the dam NOW.
• There are currently great Federal funding resources available as part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for dam removal and restoration of dewatered areas. It is likely that funding for dam repairs and continued operation would come entirely from County taxpayers.
• Milwaukee County is facing huge budget deficits, continued cuts in the already beleaguered Park Budget, and over $100 million in deferred maintenance to County buildings and facilities. Removal of the Estabrook Dam is not only best for the river’s ecology, but also minimizes costs to Milwaukee County and thus provides the greatest good to the larger public.
• Remediation of contaminated sediment upstream of the Dam must be the first priority to protect the environment and public health. The County Board has allotted no funding toward removal of these sediments, and this funding can not be bonded. Even if the Board decided to spend allotted bonded funds for dam repair, the dam can not be operated until sediments are cleaned up first.
• We urge the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors to vote against funding repairs of the Estabrook Dam and instead to seek funds for removal of the Estabrook Dam, removal of contaminated sediments, and the restoration of the Milwaukee River in the area of the dam and existing impoundment.
• We encourage the County Board to initiate a more thorough and transparent public process regarding the decision to remove or repair the Estabrook Dam. There has been no public referendum on this dam. County Board and Committee decisions around this dam have focused on individual Supervisor’s political interests and not what’s best for Milwaukee County taxpayers or their natural resources.
• There has never been a formal vote to repair or abandon at the Parks Committee or County Board. Supervisors are extrapolating $2.1 million in bonding approval in the 2010 budget as commitment to keep the dam and spend ultimately double or triple that amount. An official vote at the Parks Committee and County Board has been held up by one Supervisor whose Grandfather built the dam.
• Removing the dam would yield the greatest positive impacts on river ecology, flood management, water quality, sediment management, fish and aquatic life, terrestrial wildlife, and recreation. Dam removal will help restore the natural and wild aspect of the Milwaukee River for current and future generations. The ecological health created by a free flowing river offers greater long term value than maintaining the present lake behind the dam
For more information see the attached documents: Letter from the County explaining lack of decision, Letter from WDNR explaining repair or remove, Inter-County office Pro's/Con's list of removing or repairing the dam.
- Sierra Club Great Waters Group
- Trout Unlimited-Southeast WI Chapter
- Milwaukee Steelheaders
- Milwaukee Lake and Stream Fly Fishers
- Milwaukee County Conservation Coalition
- Greater Milwaukee Green Party
- Glendale Natural Areas Group
- Riverwest Neighborhood Association
Full position paper on Estabrook Dam
More resources below in PDF format:
|County Parks letter 1 28 11.pdf||493.5 KB|
|FF40 08 Estabrook Dam Order July 28 2009.pdf||470.07 KB|
|Pros and Cons Memo to Mayo 1 14 11.doc||33 KB|