Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"Fish or cut bait" editorial

I know there are certain people who visit this blog, hoping that "Estabrook Dam" is just a tiny bit bigger in the tag cloud in the sidebar, waiting stealthily to pounce with a comment. Not wanting to disappoint anyone, I'll throw out some bait today.
In a recent editorial, Fish or Cut Bait, the Milwaukee J-S had this to say (and you can click the link for the full editorial; it's not that long)

"But in a recent letter to the county, the DNR said the county cannot close the dam and allow the river to refill the impoundment area upstream unless all outstanding repair work is completed. The DNR is concerned about public safety. So are we.
The county's move skirts the real issue of whether to take on the more extensive repair job, estimated to cost $12 million, or to remove the dam for about $2 million. Environmental groups and others favor dam removal, while nearby residents and others who use the upstream portion of the Milwaukee River for recreation prefer a fix-up of the 1938 dam.
Removing the dam won't restore the river to its "natural" state; work done on the river channel in the 1930s made sure of that. But it would be a cheaper option at a time when the county already faces severe financial difficulties. County supervisors need to consider those finances when they consider the future of the dam - and they need to do that soon to comply with the DNR requirements."

Once again, the $12 million figure thrown out there. My arguments tend toward the philosophical and aesthetic. For awesome, cold hard facts, I turn to Vicky Ross, who wrote this rebuttal (it's long, but whatever. This is the infinite internet). Take it away, Vicky:

Dear Editorial Page Editors:
I was outraged by your editorial yesterday, “Fish or cut bait”!
I first must point out that your opening sentence contains an obvious error. The county board needs to either ‘repair or find funds to repair’? I gather from the context in the rest of the editorial that you intended to say: ‘remove or find funds to repair’.

Sloppy, very sloppy.
If your preference would truly normally be for full repair, as you state, what have you done to follow through on your inclination and fully explore the repair option?

-Did you happen to notice, or bother to report, that the county workgroup’s report was so rife with misleading information that the typically routine process of accepting the report and placing it on file passed by only the narrowest of margins on March 19th with 10 supervisors voting to accept the report and 9 voting no.?

-Did you think it to be at all odd that the Dam Removal scenario included no cost estimates for obvious related work that would stretch on for years: like cutting a channel to restore navigability, encapsulating contaminated sediments, replanting mudflats and modifying storm sewer outflows? [Details from the North Avenue dam removal process and problems experienced there shouldn’t be that hard to recall or locate.]

-Did you think it would be worth investigating how a repair estimate of $756,000 in 2006 could possibly balloon to the oft quoted $12 million in 2009?

I think not.

-Did your reporters find any of the county taxpayer comments made at the Public Hearing on March 24th interesting or compelling enough that they asked citizens follow up questions or for copies of their documents in order to learn more than their two minute time limit may have allowed?

-Did your reporters request and review any of the written comments that were submitted to the Parks, Energy and Environment Committee following the Public Hearing which provided a way for citizens to offer positions and supporting documents without being subject to a terribly limiting constraint?

-Did you give any thought to how Lincoln Park would be impacted by dam removal and advise your readers that they would no longer have water and islands as its focal point feature but instead would be greeted with unsightly mudflats riddled with invader species (weeds) and mosquito farms of stranded, stagnant water?

I think not.

-Did you consider that there might be a creative solution available given more time? Did you find it at all interesting that there are several entities actively exploring the prospect of a hydroelectric purpose for the dam?

-Did Lee Bergquist, Steve Schultze or anyone else on your staff research other Wisconsin DNR dam removal efforts and detect that their approach here is S.O.P. regardless of the specific dam, impoundment, parks, community, unique adverse impacts or the will of the people or institutions involved? [The DNR has a rich and well documented history of applying pressure on dam owners to remove them by exerting undue influence on the process – ensuring that repair cost estimates are trumped up exponentially and that removal estimates are grossly understated.]

-Did your research uncover the documents that reveal the DNR’s true agenda for the Milwaukee River and advise your readers that if the DNR is successful in having the Estabrook Dam removed that the upstream dams will quickly become their next targets: Kletzsch Park Falls, Thiensville Dam, likely even Cedarburg’s historic falls?

I think not.

-Did you question the motives that might lie behind a DNR letter delivered to the County Board of Supervisors the very morning of their April 23rd meeting as did Supervisor Rice? Didn’t you find that timing to be even a little suspicious?

-Did you question why the DNR would issue a letter saying they could issue a second Order for Dam Repair instead of just issuing another order?

-Did you find it at all compelling in the face of such opposition, that the county board of supervisors voted overwhelmingly in favor (16 to 3) of the $5,000 repair which will correct the problems cited in the DNR Order issued on September 26, 2008?

I think not.

Did you find value in the fact that the County is finally taking action to respond to the September, 2008 DNR order? Or even more significant, did you find it odd that the DNR would issue a threatening letter to the county because it was contemplating complying with the demands of an order they issued?

-Did your reporters happen to hear Supervisor Lipscomb explain that the resolution that was just passed was deliberately designed to begin the process of completing work that is necessary whether the dam is removed OR repaired and that more time is needed for study in order to responsibly decide the fate of the dam?

-Did you think it might be important to include in your editorial that the reason Supervisor Lipscomb is “rightfully” concerned about health risks associated with leaving the river low is because there are PCB hotspots in Lincoln Park that will be even more exposed to animals and people, especially children, over the summer months if the impoundment is not filled this season?

I think not.

I should tell you that I am apparently one of the few remaining daily subscribers to your paper. Needless to say I am sorely disappointed with your superficial coverage on this issue. You have failed to recognize it for the rich investigative story opportunity that it is.

With two editorials in as many weeks supporting the removal of dams (referring also to “Let the river run” - 4/22/09), it is clear to me that you have swallowed the bait whole. I congratulate you for your aplomb in falling for the DNR’s carefully crafted positions – hook, line and sinker.
Fortunately, you are not the only media outlet in this city, or this state for that matter. Perhaps I can find one who is willing to dig a little deeper and be just a touch more objective.

Yours very truly,
Vicky Ross

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