The River Falls City Council Chambers were filled with applause Tuesday evening, Jan. 22, after the council voted to approve the Kinni Corridor Plan.
This plan is a “living document” that will guide the Kinnickinnic River corridor development for the next 20 years, according to Community Development Director Buddy Lucero.
The Kinni Corridor Plan has been two years in the making.
“This was one of the biggest challenges in the 20 years that I’ve been with the city,” said Lucero.
He described the process as excellent, that it kept the community involved. Lucero thanked consultant company HKGI and praised the community, staff and committee for their hard work and cooperation, even in the face of differing opinions.
Mayor Dan Toland also praised the committee and Lucero, saying the process “could have divided us, but instead, it united us.”
The Kinni Corridor Committee was formed in late 2016. For two years, the committee met regularly and reported to the Utility Advisory Board, held open house meetings to gather public input and ultimately approved the final corridor plan which was forwarded to the City Council for approval Jan. 22.
The final plan was unanimously approved by the council, after amendments motioned by council members Sean Downing and Michael Page, to change some wording in the plan stating a goal to “Plan for and steward the repurposing of the Junction Dam Power Plant and powerhouse structures, if feasible.”
Downing said he wished to see the powerhouse structures as opportunities to have landmarks that are historical. Page suggested adding “if feasible,” as the practicality of maintaining those structures has not been looked into yet.
These amendments were approved, though Page believes the goal of removing Junction Falls dam by the target date of 2035-2040, as previously approved by the City Council, is too far in the future. He voted in favor of the plan, but said he wished to make his thoughts known on the subject.
Though the council’s vote on the plan was unanimous, many have had differing opinions on the Kinni Corridor Project since before the committee began. The process that prompted the Kinni Corridor project began in late 2013, when the city began the process of renewing its 30-year hydroelectric license from the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC). This license allows the city to operate the hydroelectric dams at Junction Falls and Powell Falls.
In 2015, the city applied for a five-year license extension.That initial request was denied, but the request was allowed to be resubmitted, and this second request was granted in March 2016.
At that point, the city decided to not only study the dams, and decide what to do with both dams and licenses, but also study the entire river corridor.
The Kinni Corridor Committee was formed and the Kinni Corridor Project kicked off in December 2016.
In February 2018, the Council approved a resolution, after several amendments, that approved relicensing the hydroelectric project for the final time, and included plans for removing the dams. The Powell Falls dam is scheduled to be removed by the target date of 2023. The Junction Falls dam is scheduled to be removed by the target date of 2035-2040.
Tuesday’s council approved the Kinni Corridor Committee’s last recommendation.
The plan, according to the council resolution, provides a “vision and framework” for the river corridor in several areas, including:
- Natural resources and river ecology: Provisions for dam removal; river restoration design, engineering and implementation; conservation easements and natural buffers; protection of wooded areas, wetlands and floodplains in the Kinni Corridor area.
- Parks and recreation: Enhanced park spaces at dam impoundments, more natural areas, more picnic areas, more access to fishing, more paddling sport access, improved pedestrian areas and improved bird watching opportunities. An opportunity for a nature center, public art displays, ADA compliant water access, wetland park space, a nature play area and bandshell/amphitheater spaces are identified in the plan.
- Land use and economic development: This part of the plan is intended to encourage river-oriented business downtown through measures such as enhancing the Riverwalk pedestrian environment, enhancing river visibility from Main Street, providing more wayfinding downtown to connect people downtown, creating more spaces for outdoor dining with views of the river and improving pedestrian and bicycle facilities downtown and by the river.
- Access and connectivity: This includes plans for improved access and connectivity to the river including conservation easements, improving existing paddling areas, more chances for people to interact with the river and additional trails along the river.
Community members are working to create a Public Private Partnership (P3), which will be a legal group that can guide the project, set priorities, and raise funds to support the project for the next 15-20 years. City employees have offered assistance in “secretarial duties,” said City Administrator Scot Simpson, such as helping the group find meeting rooms. P3’s next meeting will be 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24 at City Hall.
For more information, visit www.kinnicorridor.org/P3.