River Falls Journal
By Gretta Stark on Dec 16, 2016 at 5:00 a.m.
By about 6:45 p.m. last Thursday, the public library's lower level was packed with an estimated 340 people. They were all came to learn more and express themselves on what city employees have called the biggest decision River Falls has ever made.
It all revolves around the future of the Kinnickinnic River, and its two dams.
"This is a historic project," said Mayor Dan Toland in a brief presentation of the project to the city.
He said it was the city's biggest community planning effort since 1854, and encouraged event-goers to take time to learn about what he called the complex issues involved in the city's Kinni Corridor Project.
The effort is a multi-year project focused around planning the future of the Kinnickinnic River corridor in River Falls. The project team is looking at about a six-mile stretch of the 22-mile river.
The city's hydroelectric dams are one of the issues that will be examined by the project, according to Buddy Lucero, the city's project manager for the Kinni Corridor Project.
The city began the long process of relicensing its hydroelectric dams in 2013, and was granted a five-year license extension by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Now, according to the city's website, rfcity.org, River Falls has until August 2018 to decide whether to keep or surrender the dam licenses.
"Due to the relicense we had the opportunity not just to take a look at the issue but all the issues that are involved," Lucero said.
He said there is a lot more involved in the project than just the dams. The goal of the project is to create a Kinni Corridor Plan, "a living document," that plans for the future of the Kinni as it passes through River Falls.
Last Thursday's event was a kickoff to the Kinni Corridor Project. Lucero said is was a good start to a very long process.
"This is kind of what we were hoping for," Lucero said. "We wanted people to come out and voice their concerns and give us information and guide us to what their ideas are. So we're very happy."
He said this will be just the first of many meetings to come.
The kickoff meeting included a brief presentation, explaining the project, and several stations at which event-goers could give and receive information on the project.
The different stations were manned by employers of consulting firm SEH, a firm the city hired for the project, as well as city staff, and members of the newly formed Kinni Corridor Project committee.
Stations included large maps on which people could write their thoughts on post-its on how they use the river, or on aspects of the river; large maps on which people placed colored dots to indicate ways they use the river in different locations; a community survey about the river; information on the FERC relicensing process; results of a sediment study, kids' activities; refreshments; a chance for attendees to record a brief video of their experiences with the Kinni; and more.
Many attendees said they liked how the event was handled and presented.
"I think it's really great that the city is exercising a thoughtful consideration of what to do with the natural resource that the kinnickinnic provides," said Peter Rayne.
Local residents Kristy and Jason Anderson said they were impressed, too.
"This is really great. It's a huge turnout. I'm really excited to see the community come out and tell everybody what they want done with our river.and we'd love to see the Kinni flowing free," said Kristy.
"So we can go take our canoes and kayaks down and we could have a nice walking trail and some beautiful things back to nature again," said Jason Anderson
"And release the falls, we want to see the falls," Kristy finished.
Michelle Bredahl owns Kinnickinnic Natives plant nursery with her husband. She agreed with the Andersons.
"I'm very impressed by the number of people who showed up because I think it's a really important thing that we can do for the community," Bredahl said. "I really believe that freeing the kinnickinnic is what we really need to do because that's' a part of our responsibility and we should make it available for generations to come."
Others aren't sure they want the dams to go.
"I'm just not convinced that the city should give up on its hydroelectric power," said a local resident who identified himself as James James. "I would like more information on it."
James said he thought the city was doing its part by presenting some credible information, and added that he'd definitely be checking out the city's new Kinni Corridor Project website when it appears.
The forthcoming website will be devoted to keeping the community up to date on the Kinni Corridor Project's research, public meetings, and more.
The project will be looking at economic, transportation, planning and history aspects of the river, as well as gathering information from the community, and distributing information to the community. The website is one way, Lucero said, information will flow between the city and residents.
Lucero said the city hopes to have the website up before the end of the month.
Lucero said the kickoff meeting went very well.
"I had the opportunity to talk to several people during and after the meeting, and including staff, they all found it very helpful," Lucero said.
The next step will be for city staff and the corridor project committee members to compile and look at the data collected at the event. Summaries will go up on the new Kinni Corridor Project site when it's up and running.
Though that is still in the works, Lucero said there is a ton of interest in the river corridor.
The Kinnickinnic Corridor Project survey is available to everyone to participate in online. It can be found on Facebook and on the city's website. Or by visiting: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/kinnicorridorsurvey.