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Estabrook Dam News by  Frank Gratke

Milwaukee County built Estabrook Dam in 1937 in order to elevate water levels for recreational purposes. Its construction required both the blasting of bedrock upstream and river straightening to reduce flooding. The Dam has 3 parts: a gated section (with “sharks teeth” that capture woody debris and protect dam gates); the spillover section, which acts like a waterfall when the dam is closed; and an island that the gated and spillover sections rest upon. Historically, the Dam was closed during summer months and opened from fall through spring.

Meanwhile, repair of the dam is favored primarily by a group of riverfront homeowners who stand to lose access to the three-mile impoundment — a kind of mini-lake formed upstream of the dam (at least until 2008, when the gates of the dam were opened in response to a DNR order, drawing down the impoundment). These homeowners have been supported by county board chair Theo Lipscomb, who lives in the area and has used parliamentary maneuvers to prevent the board from voting up or down on the issue of removing the dam. (The board voted to create a fish passage around the dam, and  voted to override a veto of this by Abele.)

Frank beliefs the following: The issue will go to Federal Court and the home owners will keep the dam. A dam like a road, can not just be removed when buildings were built around them. It is denial of property. States and cities have obligations , citizens have rights. When in court, a right, general wins, over an obligation. Thus, even with the DNR and Abele against them ,the home owners will win.

Pages on Frank Gratke site.

Over time, Milwaukee County failed to maintain and repair the Dam per State Dam Safety regulations. In 2009, due to hazardous conditions created by the ill-maintained structure, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) ordered the County to open the Dam gates until the County repaired or abandoned the Dam. The original deadline for this work was July 27, 2012, which was subsequently extended by WDNR to December 31, 2014 and again until December 31, 2016.

Since the County was not obeying DNR orders, Milwaukee Riverkeeper sued Milwaukee County for failure to operate and maintain the Dam in good working condition, and in 2012, the Milwaukee County Circuit Court declared Estabrook Dam a public nuisance. The County prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA), which identifies and analyzes the alternatives available to address the Dam, including repair, a rock ramp alternative, or removal of the Dam. The alternative the County chooses must comply with both the WDNR’s repair/abandon order and the Milwaukee County Circuit Court’s order to remedy the nuisance. If the County chooses an option that does not comply with these Orders, Milwaukee Riverkeeper will go back to the WDNR and to the Court to advocate for a remedy that fully abates the nuisance