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From this Perch column: Unity and division

One of the advantages of living in a relatively small community is ... well, community: "a unified body of individuals."

It's probably true that communities are less cohesive today than they were before isolating technological "advances" took over our lives, but for me there is still a sense of unification in my community — everything from shared pride in a particular athletic team, to organizational involvement, to circles of friends.

And then every once in a while an issue pops up and a community gets divided.

In the late 1980's, Hudson found itself deeply split over the St. Croix Meadows Greyhound track.

Time can heal. Hudson has moved beyond that chapter and today is a thriving and strong community.

River Falls recently experienced its own community division over the future of the two hydro dams on the Kinnickinnic River.

With the federal license for those dams set to expire in 2023, a debate developed over whether to pursue re-licensing and keep the dams or surrender the license and take the dams out. Out like, ASAP.

Passionate and mostly informed voices existed on all sides of the issue.

Wisely, the City Council created a "Kinni River Corridor Project," a two-year planning process that dealt with the city's entire corridor on the Kinni, not just the dams. A committee was formed, made up of citizens with a wide variety of opinions and insights.

And plenty of civic spirit.

In the end, after a lot of hard work, the project committee presented its report to the City Council.

The essence of the committee's report was that while the dams do have value for the RIver Falls community, it is a diminishing value. So the committee suggested relicensing both dams, but with a timetable leading to eventual dam removal: the lower dam first and then the upper dam at a later date.

Keep in mind that the committee was made up of people with very different ideas of what should be done with the dams. And yet, they were able to come to a consensus.

Consensus on an issue like this one is a big deal!

With some relatively minor adjustments, the City Council adopted the committee's recommendations: re-license both dams, take out the lower one by 2026 and as for the upper one, a target removal date of 2035-2040.

The city's action is still subject to approval by the fed's.

Despite the deeply held opinions on what the city should do, the committee and council each reached a reasonable result. Those with strong opinions may not be doing handstands and sharing high-fives, but I'm guessing most folks can live with the current plan.

Division, discussion and consensus — a nice example of what can happen when people talk and listen with open minds.

It seems that it always helps to find common ground when a community is divided over an issue. What unifies the "body of individuals?" In the case of the River Falls community and their dams, it was a love of the Kinnickinnic River.

Twenty years ago the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust purchased — and therefore preserved in perpetuity — a 70-acre parcel in the Town of Kinnickinnic. That parcel contains a spring-fed tributary of the Kinni — a "feeder stream" known as Kelly Creek.

At the time, local poet Thomas R. Smith was inspired to write a poem about Kelly Creek, its spring and the preservation of that land by KRLT:


Clouds elegant as pheasants' tails

feather the October sky. We hike down

into the gleaming pasture, a blue spring

issuing from a limestone alcove below

boxed in the hillside. An oak's blind

roots feel down its face. Bushels

of peppery cress spread in icy water.

Bending low, I cup my hand in the stream.

This spring flows out to Kelly Creek,

then into the Kinnickinnic, St. Croix,

Mississippi, the Gulf. The Indians who

lived here must have fallen on their knees.

So clean-tasting and cold! Blessings on

the great river at its pure root! Warrior

spirits, don't let the highways come near —

guard the obscure, sacred sources of health.