City Council gives go-ahead for whitewater park feasibility study

Published 6:19 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2023

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During Monday night’s Austin City Council work session, council members pushed a resolution forward to its next meeting supporting a whitewater feasibility study in Austin that would examine whether or not a whitewater park could be put on the Cedar River.

The resolution passed out of the work session 5-2, with council members Jason Baskin and Geoff Baker dissenting.

Should it pass out of the regular meeting the study for the Austin Whitewater River Trail would look closely at altering the dam at Fourth Street SE to include rock and other formations to create the park. If the project goes all the way through to implementation, it would then be the first whitewater park in Minnesota, similar to projects in Iowa.

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Parks, Recreation & Forestry Executive Director Dave Merrill requested the use of $5,000 in funding from CIP money to help get the study started, with several private donations already poised to come in.

However, Merrill also asked during the work session if the Council would consider an additional $5,000 from Austin’s contingency fund. In total, the $10,000 would account for 20% of the study’s $50,000 price tag.

The additional $5,000 was first introduced by Merrill at the work session.

Baker said he was concerned about the workload the project might include for a department that is already dealing with a project to take down 2,400 ash trees in the face of the Emerald Ash Borer threat among other projects.

“My concern is that we’re not identifying the real cost,” Baker maintained. “It’s not $5,000.”

“There’s a whole conversation about feasibility,” Baskin said.

However, Merrill disagreed about the workload and council  members like Mike Postma and Joyce Poshusta said the whitewater park, if developed, would be a quality of life addition.

Merrill said on Tuesday, that he and his family had visited a project in Manchester, Iowa and then along with Nate Smith visited a second project in Charles City, Iowa.

“There were people in tubes, it was a beautiful summer day,” Merrill said of Manchester’s project. “It was a cool thing to watch.”

Even if the feasibility study is ultimately approved and if the overall project gets the green light, it would still be a couple years before work could be completed.

“I envision it would be a 2025 project because the Oakland Avenue bridge is scheduled to be replaced by the county in 2025,” he said. “Some of it has to be coordinated.”

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