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Editorial: Without consensus, these big issues will require go-slow approach

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Two packed public meetings last week generated copious questions and comments but no accord. Both dealt with issues that need solving but there’s time for that to happen.

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One was deciding the future of Kinnickinnic’s two hydroelectric dams. A meeting at City Hall was to begin the federal re-licensing of the dams. The process could take years.

Some want the dams gone so that the submerged falls — from which River Falls got its name — can be restored to their original, above-water condition. These folks also say the dammed up river has created two algae-filled artificial lakes that raise water temperature and harm trout habitat.

Others counter that the two dams, while very old, are well maintained and produce a small amount of clean, renewable energy. Removing the dams would be a costly waste, and the lakes and surrounding walking paths are already scenic attractions for the city.

The second meeting was about the River Falls Academy and a developer’s bid to convert the older portions into 24 apartment units. The school board is firm about dumping the Academy building. It’s a money pit and been called a firetrap. Voters in a 2011 referendum rejected spending millions to bring it up to code.

The Academy issue is complicated. It houses two valuable programs: Renaissance for high school-age students, and Montessori for grade school students. Without the Academy both are homeless. The Academy’s 1991 addition, which the district could lease back for cheap from the developer, isn’t either big enough or configured right now to hold either program.

During a school board meeting, parents had misgivings about the functionality of a low-income apartment complex next to the 1991 addition if it was somehow still used for a school program, especially for Montessori’s smaller children.

The parents were most worried about ensuring student safety with an attached apartment and tenants coming and going on the premises and on the street. Nearby homeowners worried over how much street parking would be lost to the tenants. Others asked how a sizable apartment building in the midst of a single-family neighborhood would affect property values.

Both the Kinnickinnic’s dams and the Academy’s possible uses should have everyone’s attention.

Neither are strictly city and school district concerns — trout anglers on the Kinni come from everywhere, and it’s not inconceivable that the district could propose another building referendum if the Renaissance and Montessori are displaced and can’t find rental space.

With so much at stake, we advise readers to follow developments, get involved and express your views to elected school board and city council members.

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