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Board Overrides County Exec's Veto of Estabrook Dam Fish Passage Funding

S Bence
A Milwaukee County Board budget amendment adds $750,000 to incorporate a fish passage at Estabrook Dam, slated for repair.

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors voted by a 15-1-1 vote to override vetoes County Executive Chris Abele made to spending items in the county budget for the coming fiscal year.

Abele wants to eliminate $750,000 allocated for a fish passage at Estabrook Dam, a structure some would like to see torn down, while others, including the Board’s chair, want to see restored.

Theodore Lipscomb said funding for dam repair has been in place since 2009. He added a last-minute amendment to the 2016 county budget to fund a fish passage.

"We’re on track to repair, the drawings are done, I believe they’ve been submitted to the DNR for a permit and we’re going to put this out for bid in December and begin construction soon. Should it contain fish passage or not, I’ve reached out to try to deal with a concern I’d heard that we should include it. So that’s the amendment. If it’s vetoed we’re going to have a repaired dam without fish passage and I think then people are going to be upset about that. So I hope it’s not vetoed," Lipscomb said.

Tuesday, County Executive Chris Abele held a press conference next to Estabrook Cam to announce his fish passage veto.

Abele urged the county board to sustain his veto and agree to demolish the dam, saying its removal is best for fish passage and is most environemtally friendly.

The Village of Shorewood and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District are among those supporting Abele’s position.

Of course not everybody agrees – in particular people living just upstream from the dam and would like to boat on the empoundment the dam creates, when it is fully functional.

Cheryl Nenn represents Milwaukee Riverkeeper – a long and vocal supporter of the dam’s removal. She feels people lose sight of the cost of the dam’s repair and says unless it is well managed, the structure increases the risk of flooding upstream.

Nenn says she’s hoped the county board would sustain the veto, but cautiously says it might be a win-win situation no matter which way the vote went.

"The way the veto is written, out understanding is that if we win the measure, the policy changes to removal and if we lose and if we lose the measure there’s allocated for fish passage, so from my perspective, it’s kind of a win win at this point, although clearly we think it’s crazy to be spending three times more money on repairing a dam with a fish passage which may or may not work – you can’t just build it and expect the fish to come, there’s a lot of science actually involved in creating these structures. And we do know that removing the dam will provide fish passage and will be much cheaper. We just think that’s the best way to go," Nenn says.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.