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The Kinni will be free, eventually; City Council votes to remove dams

The River Falls City Council Chambers were full Tuesday evening, Feb. 27, as community members came to speak, and to observe as the council made its decision regarding the city's two hydroelectric dams. Photo courtesy of Mary Zimmermann, City of River Falls.

After years of discussions and study, the River Falls City Council has reached a decision regarding the issue of relicensing the city's two hydroelectric dams.

At its regular Tuesday, Feb. 27 meeting, the council unanimously approved a resolution, after approving several amendments, that endorses a long-term vision of a free-flowing Kinnickinnic River, but also approves the relicensing of the hydroelectric project for the final time. The resolution includes plans for removing first the Powell Falls and then Junction Falls dams.

The council spent much time and deliberation approving several amendments to the resolution.

The approved version of the resolution, including the approved amendments states:

• The city will remove the Powell Falls dam and hydroelectric facilities, and complete associated stream restoration by the target date of 2026. The city will also document this process and evaluate it as the Junction Falls removal process is planned.

• The city will remove the Junction Falls dam and hydro facilities, and complete associated stream restoration by the target date of 2035-2040. If the need for dam removal becomes more immediate due to ecological reasons, it can be removed sooner.

• The city and stakeholder organizations will form a public-private partnership which will seek funding for these and other river corridor projects. This partnership will also address any projected revenue loss from accelerated dam removal.

• Any dam or hydro related costs over $5,000 will be reviewed by the Utility Advisory Board and any costs over $15,000 will be reviewed by the City Council.

• The council approved adding language to specify that no city property tax dollars would be spent on dam-related projects. This was passed 5-2.

• The city will continue to pursue renewable energy policies and create more clean energy from other sources.

• The corridor planning process will "establish a fiscally responsible financing plan" for implementing the final corridor plan, including dam removal and stream restoration.

The resolution, as amended, was passed with no opposition, to general applause from the audience that packed the council chambers. Almost every seat was filled and some stood in the back.

Each council member took time during the meeting to thank the members of the Kinni Corridor Committee for their hard work over the past approximately 18 months, and to thank River Falls residents and other concerned parties for taking the time to communicate with city representatives.

"I just want to thank all of you for coming here and for communicating with me and the rest of the council," said council member Diane Odeen. "It's made me realize that River Falls isn't really the river, it's the people and you've all shown how dear this city is to you."

Other council members also said they appreciated all the input from the community and the corridor committee, as well as participation in events such as Tech Talks and the planning charrette.

The city began the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) relicensing process in late 2013. FERC granted the city a 5-year extension of the license, giving the city until 2018 to decide whether to relicense or surrender the license.

The Kinni Corridor Project Committee began meeting in October 2016, and drafted the resolution that the council amended and approved during Tuesday's meeting

For more information on the Kinni Corridor Project, visit kinni corridor.org.

For further coverage of the City Council's decision, visit riverfallsjournal.com.

To see the full city council meeting, visit the city's YouTube channel.

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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