Some want Kinni dams down later; for others, it can’t come soon enough

Posted March 8, 2018

Neal Gilbertson, 74, has lived in River Falls his entire life and like many River Falls residents has a bright blue sign on his lawn, notifying his neighbors about his opinion about the dams on the Kinni River.

Gilbertson’s giant, homemade sign, which reads “Free the Kinni” in white with a red circle around the letters and a slash across it, was put up in response to the many bright blue “Free the Kinni” signs he saw popping up around River Falls.

The sign, which has only been up three months, was vandalized in January with white spray paint after only two weeks of being on his lawn. Gilbertson suspects “one of those ‘Free the Kinni’ tree huggers” was behind the damage. No one has been found guilty of defacing his sign. Currently the homemade sign sports a new message in response to the recent decision made by the River Falls City Council during its most recent meeting on Feb. 27.

Gilbertson, who has been to every City Council meeting addressing the Kinni and its dams, was the first member of the public to speak to the council during the public comments section of its last meeting.

“I’m happy with the recent decision and that the removal date is still so far away,” Gilbertson said. He’s pleased that millions of dollars will not be spent on taking out the dams when he thinks it is plain common sense to spend that much money on more worthwhile projects, such as raising the height of manholes and fixing the embankment by the dollar store so that Main Street will not cave in.

To express his satisfaction with the council’s decision, Gilbertson has now replaced the red circle and slash around the words “Free the Kinni” with a bright yellow smiley face.

For another member of the community, the resolution to pursue relicensing the dams and eventually removing the Junction Falls Dam by 2035 to 2040 did not go over well.

Michael Page, president of the community organization Friends of the Kinni and responsible for those bright blue “Free the Kinni” yard signs, attended the Feb. 27 council meeting as well.

“It was good that they moved up the timeframe for the removal of the second dam, but it’s just silly,” Page said. “They aren’t taking into account all of the substantial public feedback that this city has received in support of being done of the licenses and removal of both of the dams.”

Like Gilbertson, Page thinks that the logic of common sense is not being taken into consideration by the council, he said. “It makes no sense to remove the lower dam first. Ecologically you should be removing the upper dam first and then the lower dam. It makes no sense to do two different dam removals.”

The resolution the City Council unanimously approved on Feb. 27 is awaiting a final review and approval from the mayor. Meanwhile, it looks like the city of River Falls is still divided over the issue of dam removal — and apparently over the issue of bright blue yard signs.