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Residents take sides on City Council's latest 'dam' decision

Falcon News Service

March 7, 2018

Neal Gilbertson, 74, has been a resident of River Falls his entire life. Like many residents of River Falls, he has a bright blue sign on his lawn notifying his neighbors about his opinion regarding the dams in the Kinni River.

Gilbertson’s giant, homemade sign reads "Free the Kinni" in white, with a red circle around the letters and a slash across it. This 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 erected 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 their most recent meeting on Feb. 27.

Gilbertson, who has been to every City Council meeting that talks about the Kinni and its dams, was the first member of the public to speak to the council during the public comments section of the meeting last Tuesday. Regarding the final resolution passed that night, he said, “I’m happy with the recent decision and that the removal date is still so far away.”

Gilbertson is pleased that millions of dollars will not be spent on taking out the dams. He thinks it is plain common sense to spend that much money on more worthwhile projects like raising the height of manholes and fixing the embankment by the dollar store so that Main Street won't 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 dam and eventually removing the Junction Falls Dam by 2035 to 2040 did not go over well.

Michael Page is president of the community organization Friends of the Kinni and responsible for those bright blue yard signs proclaiming, "Free the Kinni." He also attended the Tuesday night meeting.

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

Like Gilbertson, Page thinks that the logic of common sense is not being taken into account by the council. “It makes no sense to remove the lower dam first," he said. "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 that was reached by the City Council on Feb. 27 is still awaiting a final review and approval from the mayor. Until then, 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.