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Tech Talk covers dam removal alternatives

About 175 people came to the St. Bridget Church Fellowship Hall meeting space to hear three panelists discuss 'Dam Removal Alternatives" Thursday, July 20. This was the Kinni Corridor Project Committee's fifth "Tech Talk." The next is set for Sept. 7. Photos courtesy Dan Mariette.1 / 2
Monica LaVold (left) and Nancy Miller look at one of many informational posters on display at the fifth Kinni Corridor Project Tech Talk Thursday, July 20. An open house style poster session was held before the evening's moderated panel discussion.2 / 2

There was a lot of dam discussion at St. Bridget Church last Thursday, July 20. About 175 people filled the church's fellowship hall gathering space for the Kinni Corridor Project's fifth Tech Talk, "Dam Removal Alternatives."

After an open-house-style poster session, the event included a panel discussion with Cheryl Laatsch, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission statewide coordinator for the Wisconsin DNR; Ismael Martinez, president of IMO consulting; and Marty Melchior, regional director of Inter-Fluve, Inc. The panel was moderated by Mark Lobermeier, of SEH.

The panelists, Laatsch, Martinez, and Melchior, answered a set of prepared questions revolving around the possibility of dam removal, as well as audience questions. Though there wasn't time during the meeting to address every question, Lobermeier said, each question would be addressed on the Kinni Corridor Project website.

The first decision the city will need to make is whether to relicense the two hydroelectric dams on the Kinni. The decision as to whether the dams themselves stay or go will happen after that.

Dam removal process

Laatsch was asked what the process would be like, if the city council were to decide to surrender the license and decide to remove the dams. She said if the dams became state-regulated, the city would go through with FERC license surrender, and then follow state procedures and regulations for dam removal.

The city could also follow a FERC removal process.

FERC would require management plans for environmental, financial and other concerns.

She said the removal process of a dam like those in River Falls could take around 5-10 years.

Things that would be considered during dam removal include managing the sediment that's collected in the dams.

"When we remove dams, one of the first things we do is a sediment management plan," Melchior said. He said after more than 100 years of collecting, the dams likely hold about 160,000 cubic yards of sediment. A cubic yard, he said is about a bathtub worth of sediment. Were the city to remove the dams the sediment would need to be removed, and prevented from being all sent down the river.

The sediment in the River is pretty clean, Melchior said. It did contain trace amounts of arsenic — which is found naturally in Wisconsin soil — some lead and gasoline and oil-derived chemicals. But overall, Melchior, said, it was very clean.

Dam removal effects

Each of the panelists had something to say when asked what effect dam removal would have on the river, if the city were to pursue dam removal.

"You're gaining a significant amount of viable trout stream," Melchior said. "By restoring these two impoundments, you're uncovering a gorge that has been underwater for a long time."

"Ditto," Laatsch said. She said the success of a dam removal project would likely depend on the coordinating agency selected by the city to manage the project.

As for economic impacts on the city, the panelists said removing the dams could have an impact on the tourism industry, especially when it comes to fishing and kayaking.

Coming up

A video of the full Tech Talk is available on the Kinni Corridor website,

The next Tech Talk is "Recreation and Tourism" from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sept. 7 at the public library, lower level.

A four-day community workshop (or "charrette") is set for Oct. 25-28 at the public library.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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