Approved: Oak Creek Watershed Restoration Plan To Begin In Early 2016

Oak Creek Parkway fall

What a watershed week for the future of the Oak Creek watershed.

In the past week, the South Milwaukee Common Council, Milwaukee County Board and Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District Board all approved intergovernmental cooperation agreements for the creation of an Oak Creek watershed restoration plan.

Next: The beginning of the planning process itself in the first couple of months of 2016.

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission will do the work, as it develops recommendations to improve water quality, recreational access and use, habitat conditions and targeted stormwater drainage and flooding issues. The status and future of the Mill Pond and dam will also receive special focus as part of the study.

It’s much-needed work that is too long in coming — about 30 years, to be exact. That’s how long it’s been since the watershed has received this kind of holistic planning focus. And I’m proud to help drive it.

Of course, patience is encouraged, as we take a long-term view in fixing the watershed.

The study will take more than two years to complete. My ask: Be heard, throughout.

There will be plenty of opportunities for public input, comment and reaction. In addition to regular meetings of a technical committee comprised of representatives from each watershed jurisdiction, there will be a number of stakeholder meetings for area residents, an open house and other chances to weigh in. More details to come on that early next year.

The study will cost $542,900, with MMSD contributing $280,000 of that — equal to the amount of watershed land mass in the sewerage district boundaries. SEWRPC is contributing $225,000 in-kind, while the remaining $18,950 shares will be paid by the City of South Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.

I have every confidence this will be money well spent, as it yields the information, science, context and road map we need to make decisions big and small in bringing the watershed back to life.

In other words, the work toward a cleaner and more vibrant Oak Creek watershed begins now. Dive in with all the partners who have come together to make this restoration plan a reality.

Let’s go.

12 Comments

Filed under City Council, Milwaukee County, Oak Creek watershed, South Milwaukee

12 responses to “Approved: Oak Creek Watershed Restoration Plan To Begin In Early 2016

  1. SM GUy

    Half million for a study??? How about we take that money and get rid of the sandbar in the lagoon that is so big now that ice skating is not even possible?

  2. I encourage patience. My opinion: We shouldn’t make significant, big-money investments in any part of the watershed until we have the underpinnings of this plan. I make that case in my first post on this almost a year ago … https://southmilwaukeeblog.com/2015/01/18/planning-for-the-future-of-the-oak-creek-watershed/

  3. Michael Hundt

    Why aren’t they using the half million dollars to just fix what is OBVIOUSLY WRONG first and then use the remaining money for the study ???

    • Michael: My answer is this … because investing $500,000 in dredging the Mill Pond without addressing the root causes of the problem upstream — and impacts downtstream — would not be money well spent. It would be at best a short- or medium-term fix for an issue that demands long-term solutions. Of course, the Mill Pond must be addressed, but I believe the holistic study should guide our efforts there and across the watershed.

      • SM Guy

        The problem is that I’ve lived here long enough to know that when people start talking about a study and holistic approach, we end up getting recommendations that not only don’t restore the pond and ice skating, they want to completely destroy it by tearing down the historic dam altogether. We end up with those wonderful suggestions every few cycles….

  4. Cory Peterson

    There is no way that they will ever prevent sediment from building up in a pond when the miles of riverbed consist of dirt/mud/silt/vegetation/trash, etc. You can’t build a wall (dam) at the end of a river that will always be carrying debris/silt and not expect the pond to fill up over time. Go down by the lake and you’ll see the same result where the river and lake are fighting against each other (all the sand/silt that has filled in what was once all water from Grand Park beach to South Milwaukee Yacht Club. It’s just common sense and the way nature works. Maybe if they’re worried about the pond filling in, take that money to eliminate the dam, (it may already be at, or nearing the end of it’s safe usability life), let the river become the natural stream it once was many years ago, nature will take it’s course and the problems will be gone. Any remaining money could be used to construct a ground level ice skating rink elsewhere in the park like they do at Lake Park.

    • Nels Monson

      It might be useful to realize that the dam is not a “wall.” There is a “sluice gate” built along the bottom of the dam. This gate was made to be opened (usually once every year or two) to flush out any sediment build up. This process worked very well for 60 years or so. The problem arose when the gate actuating mechanism broke about ten years ago and has not yet been repaired. Now the gate can not be opened to flush the sediment downstream. That is the reason that unsightly sandbar continues to grow.

      Fix the gate and dredge the pond. Then we can go back to using the historic Mill Pond\Lagoon as a community recreation venue for activities such as winter ice skating and summer paddle-boating or canoeing – and South Milwaukee will be a better place because of it!

    • Michael Hundt

      Tragically, eliminating the dam appears to be the direction things are going. I remember skating on the pond in the ’60’s when I was a kid not knowing anything of its heritage. Living in South Milwaukee for the past 25 years taught me the pond was instrumental in founding South Milwaukee! It was the source for power to the Fowle mill whose millstones are set in the ground at the dam. It was built by C.C.C. (Civilian Conservation Corps) labor. It would be a shame to see such a great piece of South Milwaukee history “eliminated”. Now more than ever we need to provide attractions and outlets for people to un-chain themselves from their electronic devices and get some excersize and fresh air and socialize and take a break from what we are doing right now and appreciate some hometown history.

  5. Cory Peterson

    Well that makes sense Nels! Where would the sluice gate have drained to and where is the gate/operating mechanism located? One would think that the cost of this “Study” could’ve covered the fix of the gate and the whole problem would be solved for the price of the study or even less. I guess that’s government spending/lack of outlook at work again.

  6. Nels Monson

    I agree with you Cory, the gate repair costs would be a better use of that money than just a study. The operating mechanism is a hand-crank type and located on the south side of the dam and other parts are under water. I realize that the repair would probably not be an easy (or inexpensive) one, but deferring the problem as has been done has only made things much, much worse. ” A Stitch in Time Saves Nine…” if you will. I know the gate mechanism has already been inspected. Perhaps everyone is waiting for the results of the “study” before they decide what to do. Meanwhile, the ugly sandbar continues to grow. This might be that “lack of outlook” thing of which you speak.

    My biggest concern with this study is that those conducting it will not properly appreciate the importance of the Mill Pond\Lagoon area to the social and historic fabric of South Milwaukee and indeed, Milwaukee County. Also, as a part of the Oak Creek Parkway, I believe the dam is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

    • Disco

      Oak Creek Parkway , which was part of Roger Sherman Hoar’s work in South Milwaukee is included on a historical register. However, the historical register appears to have things disappear off of it. The neat idea is just move the sediment passed the dam. This could be done in many unique ways, The cost could be a lot lower then trying to haul the sediment away. The best thing we could do about the Oak Creek watershed study is read the old one, 500 plus pages, from the 1980’s. I did , it has a lot of very interesting points, The flood data is terrific but there was some missing information. Call a meeting Mr. Mayor and lets go over the old study. A guy, by the name of Don, pointed out some very interesting to do’s that were never done.

    • I appreciate the concerns, but I am confident that the historic value of the dam will not be overlooked. In fact, I am certain it will be central to the debate. I will make sure of that, and I know there are plenty of other passionate supporters of the lagoon who will join me in raising their voices. Of course, these are just words. We have to demonstrate this with action. We will.

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