Glendale - Faced with pressure on both sides, the Glendale Common Council on Monday, Sept. 12, decided to remain neutral on the question of repairing or removing the Estabrook Dam.
Glendale Mayor Bryan Kennedy asked aldermen to weigh in on the issue because Milwaukee County Parks Director John Dargle and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele had contacted him asking for the city's position. The Shorewood Village Board, Milwaukee Common Council and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District have all adopted resolutions supporting the removal of the Estabrook Dam, and county officials sought a similar statement from Glendale officials.
Despite Mayor Bryan Kennedy's outspoken support for repairing the dam during his 2014 mayoral campaign, the Glendale council has not taken a stance due to divided opinions in the community, lack of jurisdiction over the dam and fear of getting sued. There are now five lawsuits surrounding the Estabrook Dam.
City Attorney John Fuchs advised the council to remain neutral in 2014, but prior to that recommendation, city officials supported the repair of the dam. The Glendale Common Council adopted a resolution in 1997 opposing removal of the dam, and in 2008, the council authorized former Mayor Jerry Tepper to write a letter supporting County Supervisor Theo Lipscomb's budget amendment providing funds for dam repair.
Last year, Kennedy and the council wrote a letter to Abele urging him to "do his job" and move forward with the county board's repeated policy preference for repairing the dam. The letter claimed the city is not taking a side in the matter, but noted that the county's refusal to take action has left many Glendale residents in limbo.
Seeking a more direct stance from other council members, Kennedy said he emailed all six aldermen for their opinions. He said Glendale is the community most affected by the Estabrook Dam and deserves to have its voice heard.
"I cannot continue without direction from this council to advocate a stand that has been in the past essentially my personal viewpoint," he said.
Kennedy only received three responses to his email. One of those responses was from Alderman Richard Wiese, who said the city should continue to be neutral.
Without a majority of the council's input, Kennedy asked for an opinion from city staff, which recommended the removal of the dam. City staff, Kennedy later clarified, includes City Attorney John Fuchs, Building Inspector Collin Johnson and former City Administrator Richard Maslowski, who was two days away from retirement on Aug. 31.
That resolution expressing support for the removal of the dam was dismissed by the council during its Sept. 12 meeting, when aldermen unanimously voted to take a position of neutrality.
When asked by Alderman Richard Wiese if the city could be held liable for taking a stance, Fuchs said the city could be included as a witness or party to litigation but could not be successfully sued.
"In my opinion, because you have no jurisdictional authority over the dam, you have no liability for what might happen with the dam," Fuchs said.
County Supervisor Theo Lipscomb spoke at the meeting, and said he had hoped the city would voice its support for the dam.
"I've represented Glendale as county supervisor for just over eight years and it has always been my implicit understanding that the city of Glendale supported repair," he said. "When I first got the money appropriated, the city gave me an award. I couldn't imagine what else it was for because I hadn't delivered anything else yet."
The county board's finance committee is also being asked to reconsider its policy of repairing the dam. Abele's office recently notified the county board that bids for the project came in $613,000 over the $3.5 million available budget. Lipscomb challenged those financial projections and asked the comptroller's office to provide a more detailed report.
In a report on Sept. 1, Comptroller Scott Manske confirmed the project faced a $613,000 shortfall, but also noted the funding gap could be covered with $726,113 in state grant funding and $202,978 from the Estabrook Dam Trust, which is made up of revenue from neighboring television towers.
"(The report) shows there is a more than $300,000 surplus - not deficit - in available funding for the project if the county executive or his parks department simply implement the adopted policy of the county, which is to repair, which has been reaffirmed numerous times," Lipscomb said.
Abele supports the removal of the dam, which is estimated to cost $1.8 million.