Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Estabrook Dam Repair or Abandon Order issued

One small step for man, one significant leap forward in the fight for clean waters and fish. To newer readers, I and others have been personally involved in pushing for dam removal.

Estabrook Dam deadline set

State orders Milwaukee County to fix or abandon structure

After years of neglected maintenance, state officials have ordered Milwaukee County to repair or abandon the ailing Estabrook Dam.

The Department of Natural Resources ordered the county on Tuesday to fix or tear down the aging structure on the Milwaukee River.

The DNR gave the county a deadline of Oct. 1, 2010, to hire an engineering consultant to provide information about whether the dam can be fixed or rebuilt.

The DNR also told the financially troubled county it has until Jan. 28, 2011, to make a final decision.

The DNR found numerous deficiencies during inspections in 1994 and 2004, and over time, an ever-growing pile of debris and garbage has pressed against the structure and threatened its integrity.

Some work and repairs have been made over the years. This summer, wooden timbers on one area of the structure were replaced with the help of an anonymous donation.

But dam safety experts at the DNR have concluded that the work to date has been inadequate.

Repairs could cost as much as $12 million, according to an estimate by a working group of county officials. The group estimated the cost of tearing down the structure at about $2 million.

County Supervisor Theo Lipscomb, whose district includes the river upstream of the dam, wants to see the dam repaired.

He said the cost of repairs could be far cheaper - about $2.4 million. One reason for the cheaper option: Repairs would be made so that water levels in the reservoir behind the dam would be dropped in the winter so ice doesn't press against the structure.

But DNR officials said all dams that need to be repaired in Wisconsin are required to meet standards to withstand the weight of ice.

Still, Lipscomb said that he is troubled by the years of county neglect, which could mean the loss of the 100-acre impoundment that's been a feature of the river for more than 70 years.

"I think it's irresponsible," Lipscomb said.

County Parks Director Sue Black did not return phone calls on Wednesday asking for comment.

The dam lies on the northern end of Estabrook Park and was built in the 1930s. A complicating factor is that river sediments above the dam are contaminated with industrial pollutants known as polychlorinated biphenyls.

Environmentalists and conservationists have pushed for removal, saying it would add another free-running stretch to the river. They point to the North Avenue Dam, which was removed in 1997. Water quality and habitat have greatly improved since then.

But residents above the dam want to see it remain intact, arguing the loss of boating and the lake-like character of the river would reduce property values.

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