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Mayor speaks against Pioneer Press coverage of Kinni Corridor

Mayor Dan Toland made a statement during the public comment section of the April 23 River Falls City Council meeting regarding an article in the Sunday, April 21 edition of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, regarding dam removals in Minnesota and Wisconsin, particularly in the greater Twin Cities Metro area.

"Part of the article focused on the Kinni and the future dam removal," Toland said. "I want our council members, residents, community partners and visitors to know that there are some concerning issues with the article."

Toland said some statements in the article were contrary to information included in final reports prepared by consultants, and project partners for the Kinni Corridor projects. Toland said the article also misstates the City Council's January resolution on the Kinni Corridor.

"If you read the article, and were puzzled, or upset, as some of us are by the assertions, quotes, and misinformation," Toland said, "I invite you to visit our project website at kinnicorridor.org for more reliable information.

"I am disappointed to have learned that much of the Kinni-related information for the article was supplied almost exclusively by one of our City Council members. The reporter has shared with staff that he was under the impression that the City Council member was acting as a spokesperson for the city. This, of course, was not the case, nor should it ever be the case.

"Council members are always free to speak their mind, but should be mindful that they do not, and should not speak for the city, unless directed by the mayor or City Council."

Toland said he plans to respond to the Pioneer Press with the city's concerns. He also thanked those who had been a part of the Kinni Corridor Project planning process, and those who are part of the Kinni Corridor Collaborative.

"I am proud of how the community came to consensus around the issue of dam removal," Toland said. "I am proud of the plan we worked so hard to create. This is the accurate depiction of the project and the plan moving forward, so thank you for the time."

Toland did not mention any specific council member. However, Alderperson Michael Page, who is also president of the Friends of the Kinni organization, was quoted in an April 21 Pioneer Press article.

Though present, Page did not speak during the public comment section at the April 23 meeting.

Page did, however, later gave a statement to the Journal in reaction to Toland's comments. Page said in the article quotes were a reflection of his own personal opinion, and he was not speaking on behalf of the city.

Page said the article in question, a front-page article with the headline "Are dams relics of the past," which ran Easter Sunday in the Pioneer Press, was a "very positive reflection" of the River Falls community.

Page said he felt Toland misinterpreted the article.

"I take personal exception to Mr. Toland's public comments directed towards me at the April 23 City Council meeting," Page said. "Mr. Toland did not bring his concerns to my attention prior to making his public comments, nor did he inform me that he was upset.

"I question why he chose such a manner to address his concerns rather than discussing them with me directly."

After the meeting, Page said he reached out to Toland to discuss the issue. Page said Toland did not wish to discuss the matter any further.

"Mr. Toland's public comments don't make any sense," Page said. "While I am not the author of the article, I can tell you that there wasn't any misinformation presented. In reading through the article I was actually quite impressed with the positive nature of the article and in how it highlights the great things we are doing here as a community to restore our beloved Kinnickinnic River.

"The only inaccuracies and misinformation are in his public comments," Page said.

Page said the article does not present Page as a spokesperson for the city. Page said the article did not include any misinformation regarding the city's January resolution regarding the Kinni.

"The article states that the 'River Falls City Council in January approved a plan to develop a seven-mile corridor of the river, after the dams are taken down,' which is true," Page said. "We approved the Kinnickinnic River Corridor Plan on Jan. 22 of this year."

Page said no statements in the article contradict information included in Kinni Corridor project reports.

"Lastly, Mr. Toland continues to refer to the 'issue of dam removal'," Page said. "While we have reached a community consensus that the future of the Kinnickinnic River Corridor is a vision of a free flowing Kinnickinnic River.

"We are no longer addressing an issue of dam removal, we have thankfully moved well beyond that decision, there is no longer an issue. We are now fortunate to have the opportunity to restore the Kinnickinnic River and the Junction Falls waterfall in the heart of our community.

"Our opportunity as a community and future vision for the Kinnickinnic River Corridor is of a fully restored Kinnickinnic River. It is going to be beautiful. And yes, dams are by definition a relic of our community's past."

Maintenance projects

The council approved a $100,968.80 bid from Visu-Sewer, Inc. for the 2019 sanitary sewer lining project. Per council member Sean Downing's question, Utility Director Kevin Westhuis said there was ample room in the budget for any change orders that might arise.

It also approved a $53,350 bid from American Pavement for the 2019 Rout and Seal program.

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.

(651) 301-7849