Nearly a year after the River Falls, Wis., City Council voted to remove two century-old hydroelectric dams on the Kinnickinnic River, it has settled on a plan for the future of the river corridor.
The plan, approved Tuesday, focuses on the 7-mile stretch of the river that flows through River Falls. Called the Kinnickinnic River Corridor Plan, it provides a framework for how the city can protect, improve and capitalize on the river segment once the dams are gone.
The plan outlines the economic and recreational opportunities of a free-flowing Kinnickinnic and the areas that surround it. The planning process included analysis of what other river communities have done to restore river ecology and attract tourists.
“The river is a life stream to the city, and a lot of people don’t realize we have such a beautiful asset in our community,” said Buddy Lucero, the project manager and the city’s community development director. “We need to be able to show that asset and how it works for all of us.”
The city prioritized its next steps, which include improving river access, developing a river restoration plan and designing and seeking funding for eco-friendly downtown infrastructure.
A public-private partnership is being formed to implement the plan.
“We ask for [residents’] patience and ability to champion the plan,” Lucero said, adding that the plan should be considered a “living document” that will inform developments and projects near the river for the next 20 years.
“All projects take time ... but we don’t want this plan to just sit on a shelf,” he said. “We want to use it and have people continue to speak up to say, ‘Let’s follow these guidelines so we don’t lose this vision.’ ”
City officials have been collecting resident feedback for the plan since 2016 at forums and workshops and through surveys. That feedback informed the plan’s core focus points: parks and recreation, natural resources and ecology, land use and economic development, and river access.
Still, much of the community debate centered on whether to remove the dams, with one side supporting the recreational and tourism potential of a free-flowing river and another arguing against the loss of a source of renewable energy for the city.
While there are still some strong feelings about the future of the dams, Lucero said he wants residents to understand the corridor plan goes far beyond those structures.
“This is a plan for the river,” he said. “Yes, the two dams are a part of the overall planning process, but we have to look at this as the whole corridor.”
City officials plan to remove the Powell Falls dam by 2026 and the Junction Falls dam by 2040.
Jeff McMenimen of the Hoisington Koegler consulting firm said the plan was a direct result of an engaged community.
“[Residents] were really front and center of this project,” he said.
Mayor Dan Toland, closing Tuesday’s council meeting, asked the community to stay involved and continue to give feedback as the public-private partnership moves forward. As a former member of the river corridor committee that began meeting in 2016, Toland said he had his doubts back then about a unified plan.
“I remember sitting there thinking, ‘This is never going to work, we are never going to come to any sort of consensus,’ ” he said. “But I think it turned out wonderful.”