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By James B. Nelson March 29, 2016

Image in a Chris Abele ad shows lake that's supposedly created by Estabrook Dam

A new television ad from Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele shows a large body of water with a sizable boat tied up in front of a two-story boathouse.

That image forms the backdrop for a statement printed on the screen about his opponent’s support of repairs to the Estabrook Dam on the Milwaukee River: "Chris Larson: $5 million of taxpayer money to benefit a few wealthy citizens."

The narrator takes the claim further, saying the repairs give the wealthy residents "their own lake."

The message conveyed by the image is clear: These are the properties of those wealthy residents living along the lake created by the Estabrook Dam.

Only they’re not.

A deeper dive

Before we, um, dive into this one, here is some background on the long-running debate over whether to repair the dam.

Built in the 1930s, the dam -- which sits on the river just north of Milwaukee, at the border of Shorewood and Glendale -- was installed to help control flooding and to maintain swimming and water recreation in an urban setting, especially in and around Lincoln Park.

It has also created generations of what amounts to lakefront living for some people. When the dam gates are closed, the river forms a 100-acre impoundment upstream. There are about 165 property owners in the area whose property abuts the water, according to a 2015 report prepared for the county.

Today, the dam is in poor condition,. The state Department of Natural Resources has ordered the county to keep the gates open until the structure is either repaired or abandoned. That means the lake has been, in effect, drained, and it’s a plain-old river again.

Abele and the County Board have disagreed about how to proceed. Larson himself was a member of the board before he was elected state Senator.

Abele sides with the Milwaukee Riverkeepers, a coalition of environmental groups that wants the dam removed so the river can be kept in its natural state.

Years ago, the North Avenue Dam, several miles downstream, was removed and experts have said the faster current has led to improved water quality, a thriving fish population and new wildlife habitat.

A majority of the County Board disagrees and wants to spend about $3.4 million on repairs and $2.2 million in operating and maintenance costs over the next 20 years.

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As a county supervisor, Larson voted in 2009 to repair the dam. That’s the genesis of the $5 million figure Abele used in the ad. However, in a recent  interview, Larson said he’s willing to consider removing the dam.

Image is all wet

That leads us to the image used in the ad. It looks more like Door County than the Milwaukee River. And that’s not the kind of boat or property you’d find in that area.

The boat pictured is either a fishing boat or cruiser and could be up to 36-feet long, said Charles Plueddeman, an Oshkosh-based freelance writer who focuses on the marine industry.

"A boat this size could be used on large lakes or offshore in salt water," he said.

"When I looked at the photo my first thought was ‘this does not look like Wisconsin,’" Plueddeman said. "I've not been to that site, but I don't think it would be surrounded by the high, rocky bluffs in this photo. And that would be a very big boat to use on that little impoundment."

Indeed, pontoons and jet skis are more commonly found in the area, said Clark Blachly, who owns a nearby home.

"I have been up and down this river hundreds of times there is nothing remotely like this," he said.

We asked Abele’s campaign manager Tia Torhorst about the image in the ad. She said it was "stock footage" and was unaware of where it was shot.

In short, it’s not the Milwaukee River.

We’ve seen previous -- admittedly higher profile -- instances of the wrong images being used to make point in a political ad.

Earlier this year, Republican Donald Trump aired a TV ad purporting to show Mexicans swarming over "our southern border." But the footage was of African migrants streaming over a fence between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla. That claim was rated Pants on Fire.

Our rating

An Abele TV ad uses a lakefront image to criticize Chris Larson for supporting $5 million in Estabrook Dam repairs to benefit "a few wealthy citizens." But the photo used is not the Milwaukee River and the boat pictured would be woefully out of place there.

We rate the claim that the image represents the area Pants on Fire.

Our Sources

Chris Abele television ad on Estabrook Park, March 15, 2016

Emails, Tia Torhorst, Chris Abele campaign, March 24, 2016

Chris Larson appearance on Upfront with Mike Gousha, March 13, 2016

Emails, Charles Plueddeman, March 24, 2016

Emails, Clark Blachly, March 23, 24, 2016

Emails, telephone call, Glen Goebel, Milwaukee River Preservation Association, March 24, 2016

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump’s first TV ad shows ‘migrants at the southern border,’ but they’re actually in Morocco," Jan. 4, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Lawsuit seeks to block county funds to repair Estabrook Dam," March 21, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Chris Abele spends nearly $500,000 for ad blitz on local TV stations," March 24, 2016

Milwaukee Riverkeeper website on Estabrook Dam removal

Milwaukee River Preservation Association website on Estabrook Dam removal

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More by James B. Nelson

Image in a Chris Abele ad shows lake that's supposedly created by Estabrook Dam

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