City, grassroots group study impact of removing Kinnickinnic River dams

Posted October 3, 2016

The City of River Falls and Friends of the Kinni (FOTK) have hired three companies to do feasibility studies on removing the two dams located on the Kinnickinnic River, which could lead to restoring the community’s namesake waterfalls.

FOTK started in 2013 as a group of community members who became “engaged with the city of River Falls’ relicensing attempt (for a new 30-year license to operate its hydroelectric facility) with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” said spokesperson Michael Page. Since then, the city abandoned the attempt at a 30-year license, and applied for a five-year license.

Now, the city has started the Kinnickinnic River Corridor Planning Process.

“It’s a big, huge, long title for basically the city hiring a company to come in and conduct this planning process for the next two years,” Page said. “As a part of that corridor planning process, there is a decision on whether or not to maintain the hydroelectric facility, therefore — whether or not to remove the dams.” The decision will be made next fall by a committee composed of community members.

Short Elliott Hendrickson, which will prepare the plan, is a St. Paul-based company that improves “the quality of life by designing safer, more sustainable infrastructure for local, state and federal units of government,” according to its website.

FOTK has hired an outside firm of its own, Inter-Fluve, a river restoration company. The group is conducting a dam removal feasibility study to determine a cost estimate and a general layout of the plan.

“It’s a very high level plan, so it’s not the final designs, and the cost estimate will be fairly rough. That (estimate) is going to be based on the sediment analysis that Inter-Fluve just conducted for the City of River Falls,” said Page.

Inter-Fluve has also brought in a third party to draw the designs. LVBrown Studios of Madison was hired to draw up pictures and designs of what the area could look like without the dams.

Although there are different firms being brought in on this project, Community Development Director Buddy Lucero acknowledges there are positives and negatives to this story.

“What we’re trying to achieve through the planning process and public engagement is to look at both sides of that and weigh that,” Lucero said. “You may have heard the positives already. The negative is a cost issue. Even in a demolition of a building there’s a cost issue. There’s a cost of taking that building down and what impact it has on its surrounding.”

However, the results from Inter-Fluve’s study show “it doesn’t look like there would be a major impact of letting the water out or the amount of silt in the area or chemicals in the water itself,” said Lucero.

Lucero’s main goal is to get a broad look from both sides to make the dam removal decision as simple and efficient as possible. The next step is public engagement.

“We want to hear what the whole general public has to say about the river, the lakes, the dams, the hydro,” Lucero said. “We want to get their feedback on should they stay or should they go.”

Along with public engagement, “one of the biggest things that people can do is just work this into conversations. We need to tell people about it that aren’t aware of what’s going on,” said Page. The decision to remove the dams will not be looming for a while, but the debate will continue to heat up as the impact and consequences become more apparent.