Kinni dam removal has finally moved forward, but not fast enough
March 1, 2018
A resolution was finally approved regarding the removal of the two dams that are blocking the Kinnickinnic River through River Falls. The final decision was unanimously in favor of eventually removing both dams, though the hydroelectric license will be renewed one last time.
This decision has been almost two years in the making, officially, and some members of the public have unofficially wanted to remove the dams for far longer. The wait is not over, however; it will be another eight years before the first of the dams – the Powell Falls facility – will be removed.
Part of the reason the project is taking so long is because the city will be working all the while to ensure that the stream is restored properly after the removal of the dams. The first dam will be a test run for when they move forward to take out the larger Junction Falls dam.
A bigger reason, however, is cost. An amendment was made on the resolution to specify that no city property tax dollars will be going towards these projects. Instead, the money will be raised by public-private partnerships through citizens and interest groups. This isn’t a fast process, and it will take years for the planning and fundraising to come together.
It seems like a bit of a stretch that the extensive funds necessary to remove these dams and revamp a river will be fully covered without the help of tax dollars. We think that the city should reconsider their promise that no property tax dollars will be spent on the project. At this rate, the current generation will not be seeing many of the resulting benefits from the project.
Overall, the dam removal has a lot of potential to enhance the city. One of the main points that the council brought forth was the tourism aspect. Restoring fast flow to the river through town will make the surrounding property much more aesthetically pleasing and encourage business owners to set up shop along its banks.
Faster rivers are also better for recreation. A continuous river flow will be more appealing to kayakers, because they will not have to interrupt their trip to portage around the dams. A faster, narrower river with more gravel is also better trout habitat, which will draw in fishermen.
The dams are also on their last legs. Studies of their structural integrity have shown that they are in need of repairs. The longer we take to remove them, the more the city has to spend on simply making sure that they don’t crumble on their own. The dams are generating a small amount of electricity for the city, but it is only a small percentage of the city’s power usage and does not make up for the cost of keeping these dams alive.
Already, the city’s recommendation has moved the project completion date forward by about 10 years. This suggests that it is possible to do this quicker. We think the city needs to take advantage of the momentum gained by the project, otherwise people will begin to lose interest.