Public raises concern of the future of sustainability in RF

By Andrew Harrington
Posted 5/22/24

A 30-minute public comment period saw many River Falls residents walk to the podium to share topics of concern which included the sustainability coordinator position and a mountain bike trail during …

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Public raises concern of the future of sustainability in RF


A 30-minute public comment period saw many River Falls residents walk to the podium to share topics of concern which included the sustainability coordinator position and a mountain bike trail during the May 14 city council meeting.

Town of River Falls resident Carol Ackley discussed the departure of Mike Noreen, sustainability coordinator for the City of River Falls, and the accomplishments Noreen had in River Falls. Ackley highlighted the achievements during Noreen’s time including building relationships with schools such as the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, an energy education program for second and fourth graders that Ackley said has reached over 4,000 students in the River Falls School District over the last 14 years and multiple awards and honors including being named the No. 2 city in the nation in green power participation rate in 2019.

“It is as if a critical thread in the beautiful tapestry that is River Falls has been pulled out,” Ackley said. “It will be your job to make sure that it doesn’t completely unravel.”

One resident questioned whether the city was going to look into saving the money by cutting the role completely, to which City Administrator Scot Simpson said it is just a matter of waiting before the position is filled during the administrator’s report.

“Mr. Noreen resigned his position as the sustainability and forestry coordinator recently,” Simpson said. “Funded vacancies, as this is, meaning we’re not looking for savings, or it’s not a position that doesn’t have consistent budget funding, typically take a few months to evaluate, post and then fill with a replacement depending upon available candidates.”

Simpson said City Council and the Utility Advisory Board have “consistently supported” the sustainability and forestry coordinator position. Simpson mentioned that the comprehensive plan was recently updated and includes multiple sustainability priorities.

HOPE Lutheran Church Pastor Annie White-Ladnier questioned the transparency of the city government. White-Ladnier’s concerns included non-transparency on personnel decisions including Noreen’s departure and the departure of a member of the financial department of River Falls Municipal Utilities.

In addition to the support shown for Noreen, multiple members of the community stressed the importance of filling the sustainability coordinator role again.

There were questions raised about whether the city missed a deadline to accept $500,000 in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), to which Simpson said the grant had not been awarded yet.

“It’s not factual that we have ignored deadlines related to potential U.S. Department of Energy, in fact, we’ve not even been awarded the grant,” Simpson said. “We’ve been notified by the DOE that we are invited to negotiations, and they made that point several times to us that it was not a grant award. That may be confusing because the DOE itself issued a press release that gave people the impression that we had been, in fact, awarded a grant.”


Rolling Hills Development

A purchase agreement with an acquisition of an easement from Rolling Hills Development passed 6-1.

“During the Tattersall Distilling redevelopment in 2020, the owners expressed interest in

connecting the Whitetail Ridge mountain bike trails to their new facility in order to host races,

events, and provide a connection to additional amenity for users of the trails. Staff explored a

number of options and eventually reached out to the Fox family to discuss purchase of an

easement across their property that could provide a trail connection,” city documents state.

The purchase would be of approximately two acres on Oak Ridge Drive, and will be tacked onto the easement, which spans about 50 acres.

Several community members spoke on the topic during the public comment portion of the meeting, sharing concerns including a lack of notice for the community and that there were no studies done on the potential environmental impact.

Alderperson Jeff Bjork, who voted against the resolutions, shared many of the concerns of the public and made a motion for the resolution to be tabled that ultimately failed.

“There’s got to be some public hearing that occurs beyond us just purchasing the property and then we’ll figure it out later,” Bjork said.

Council ultimately approved the resolutions after multiple members touched on why they believe this is the direction to go.

“We live in a society in which [the] city will be working on one plan, and it sometimes brushes on other people,” Alderperson Nick Carow said. “That’s not a fun thing, and we recognize that. But as we build out these plans, we execute them because we think we’re hitting what we believe is the common good. A common good for us has been to try to provide as much recreational activity in this region as we can.”


Other business

  • Approved River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau request for street closure, open container exemption, noise control exemption and request for city assistance for 2024 events.
  • Renewed a liquor license for Dick’s Hometown Liquor.
  • Removed the requirement of the city to alert the public of vacancies on city boards or commissions through the city’s cable channel because it has not been in operation for multiple years. The bylaws still state the vacancies will be announced through the city website and city bulletin boards.
  • Authorized entering into a state municipal project agreement with the state for a 2024-25 local road improvement grant. “The City applied for and was awarded a 2024-2025 LRIP grant to supplement the 2024 Mill and Overlay project that includes Riverside Drive and the portion of Paulson Road between North Main Street and Riverside Drive,” city documents state. The city’s cost was reduced from $220,015 to $177,772 on the project after a pair of grants.
  • Approved development agreement and purchase agreement with Little Adventures Investments. The building will be a childcare facility at Sterling Ponds Corporate Park and span about 7,440 square feet.
  • Proclamations for Public Works Week, Economic Development Week, Poppy Day and designating May as Historic Preservation Month.
River Falls City Council, Mike Noreen, departure, sustainability coordinator, City of River Falls, green power, Rolling Hills Development, Wisconsin