The River Falls City Council is getting ready to make its final decision on whether or not to relicense the city's hydroelectric dams. In preparation for that decision, the council heard a presentation by Mark Lobermeier of Short Elliott Hendrickson.

Lobermeier presented to the council a draft of a resolution that was recommended to the council by the Kinni Corridor Committee. The drafted resolution states that it is based on a "long-term vision of a free-flowing Kinnickinnic River" and mentions maintaining the health of the river as a Class I Trout Stream.

The corridor committee also recommended the city relicense the hydroelectric project "For the final time" with an agreement to remove the Powell Falls dam and hydroelectric facilities by 2026. The resolution also sets a target date of removing the Junction Falls dam, and restoring that section of the river by at least 2048, no earlier than 2040, unless ecological conditions make it necessary for a more immediate removal.

Any expenditures related to the dams or hydro facilities over $5,000 would be brought to the Utility Advisory Board and City Council for review and approval under this resolution.

The resolution also commits the city to pursuing renewable energy resources.

The council will be called on to vote on this proposed resolution at its next meeting, Feb. 27.

Provided the resolution is passed, the relicensing process would be initiated in March. A preliminary application document would need to be submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by the end of August.

City Administrator Scot Simpson said that staff were looking for feedback from the council about what, if any, modifications they'd be interested in seeing in the resolution before the council votes on Feb. 27.

Simpson also noted that the license is for the entire hydroelectric project which includes both facilities.

"If the council adopts this resolution, we would make it known that we want to relicense the project, but the facilities would be different going forward than what they are today," Simpson said.

Council member Jeff Bjork said he thought 2048 was too early to remove the Junction Falls Dam.

"If you just look at it financially, it makes absolutely no sense to take out the dams," Bjork said.

He said Junction Falls had another 60 years of useful "life" left, and doesn't think it needs to be removed in 30 years. Bjork also said Powell Falls dam has a minimum useful life of 12 years left.

Bjork asked if the lower dam was removed, would nature be allowed to take its course or would it be a "man-made" stream.

He said that beavers used to dam up the river.

"Is it going to be a natural river ... or is it going to be a man made river to satisfy kayakers?" he asked.

Lobermeier said the river would be natural, but would be managed in a way that is consistent with its classification.

Bjork also objected to setting a deadline for dam removal and said he'd prefer to see the wording make the removal dates not set in stone.

Council member Scott Morrissette said he did not like having the dates set in the resolution that way, however, he understood why it was necessary.

"We have to be able to communicate our vision ... we have to be able to communicate that vision to the community," he said.

Council member Diane Odeen praised the committee's hard work.

She also said she supported putting the removal years in the resolution.

"This is a policy statement," she said. "That we will be making as to where we want to take our community."

She said the dates communicate this clearly to future councils and to the community.

Hal Watson also praised the committee.

"I'm really proud of our community for coalescing around a vision that this ... river will be free-flowing, hopefully in my lifetime," he said. I think this document points us in the right direction. I think that we are on the cusp of taking the right step forward."

Watson said he would like to discuss the removal dates as he felt 2048 for Junction Falls was too far away.

He also praised the idea of a public-private partnership working with the river and the dams going forward.

Chris Gagne also praised the committee members, and commended them on a good job reaching out to the community.

Mayor Dan Toland said he was pleased with the committee's work, of which he was a part, and with the community input.

Roland said he's lived in River Falls for 40 years, and tried to look at the issue from both sides.

"I truly believe that we have come up with a framework that the community can live within and make happen over time," he said. "Everyone is not going to get what they want, even those that are getting most of what they want are not happy with it going as fast as they want it to. "However, I look forward to working with all of our community members and stakeholders as we move along with the framework we are setting in place ... I do fully support this resolution drafted for the city council."

Public comment

The council also heard public comments from many community members.

Gary Horvath, local resident and vice president of Trout Unlimited, thanked Toland for appointing him to the Kinni Corridor Committee.

Horvath said the river temperature is warming, even above town, which could be detrimental to the health of the fishery.

He urged the council to considering moving up the date for removal of the Junction Falls Dam.

Resident Lauren Kaminski, vice president of the Friends of the Kinni Organization, delivered a petition asking the city to consider removing both dams and surrendering the license.

Dave Fodroczi, resident and retired executive director of the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust also spoke. He serves as a member of the Kinni Corridor Committee.

"My primary message tonight," he said "is thank you for the opportunity to participate on the Corridor committee."

Fodroczi said he was excited about the long-term vision of a free-flowing Kinni in the proposed resolution. He also urged the council to listen to other individuals and organizations who would speak.

Dave Drewiske, current KRLT director spoke following Fodroczi. He mentioned the idea of a public-private partnership and groundwater management.

"We're here to help," he said. "We're here to work with you and we hope that this is a mutually beneficial and satisfactory outcome to everyone."

Michael Page, local resident, dentist, and president of the Friends of the Kinni, praised the interactions the organization has had with the city over the last four years. He said the proposed resolution would be a "step forward for our city." He also urged the city to reconsider moving up the timeline for removing the Junction Falls Dam.

Scott Wagner, of Hudson, was also in favor of removing the dams. He said he is an avid fisher, and would be willing to help raise funds to assist the city remove the dams. He also asked the city to consider removing the Junction Falls Dam sooner.

William Hansen spoke about renewable energy, and urged the city to consider leaving the dams in place. He said 85 percent of local renewable energy is provided by the dams and hydroelectric facilities. He also suggested they could be a good source of emergency power, as the power grid is "very vulnerable to mother nature."

Bill Hansen said he felt the the proposed 2040-2048 date of removal for the Junction Falls dam is too soon.

He said removing the dams would make it easier for people to kayak through and scare fish away for fishers. He suggested that spending money on a new pool system would be better for the community than removing the dams.

Patricia La Rue, another corridor committee member said the committee considered more than the issue of the hydroelectric dams.

She said community feedback included suggestions like adding restrooms and drinking fountains along the Kinni Pathway, controlling buckthorn and vegetation, and benches on Glen Park Trail near the waterfall, etc.

She said the committee's recommendation is about addressing the suggestions of the community.

See the full council meeting on the city's YouTube channel.