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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
April 3, 2008
— The Rock River churned and roiled through downtown Janesville on Wednesday.

It was a refreshing sight under the bright sun.


But in the summer, the river can be an open storm sewer where bicycles, bricks and other junk poke through the murky water and the rough fish swarm like flies in the shallows.


Buildings turn their backs to the river, and so does much of the community.


“People call it the moat that divides Janesville,” City Manager Steve Sheiffer said.


Sheiffer wants to make the river a focus of downtown redevelopment, and he announced he will propose to spend $25,000 to $50,000 next year to create a detailed plan.


Not that any changes will happen soon. Sheiffer said he wants people to imagine what the river could look like in 15 to 20 years.


Sheiffer took city staff and three DNR officials on a tour Wednesday to start the imagining.


DNR participants included Susan Josheff, the DNR’s lower Rock River leader, Robert Davis, a water management engineer, and Al Byla, water management and zoning specialist.


“This is about the naturalness of this area and what it’ll be in 20 years, and I’m proposing that this be a priority,” Sheiffer told the group.


The tour started near the Monterey Dam, where a lagoon that was once part of a millrace has become a placid backwater.


“Right now it’s a carp hatchery,” Byla said.


The backwater, located along the bike trail behind the Van Galder Bus Co., is separated from the river by a narrow strip of land. The setup poses a danger. An uprooted tree could open a breach.


“It’ll do major damage if water starts passing through there,” Davis said.


The river’s main channel near the dam is one of the best places to fish in Janesville, “and we’ve been trying to protect it,” Sheiffer said.


Byla said he wouldn’t mind seeing fish ladders around the dam.


Sheiffer said he wants to make the river more natural from Monterey Park upstream into downtown.


Defining just what “natural” means will be important, Byla commented.


Tour participants seemed to agree the sloping concrete slabs that hold up the riverbanks in Monterey Park will have to go.


Josheff said the slabs keep frogs and turtles away from what would be their natural homes, and she suggested natural vegetation instead of concrete or mowed grass along the riverbanks.


“It doesn’t mean you’d have to take out the ball diamond,” Josheff commented. “… It might even save you from mowing grass.”


Farther up the river, city officials pointed to the old Accudyne plant, now a city property and scheduled for demolition.


The plant sits on land where the river turns sharply to the left before flowing into Monterey Park.


Parks Director Tom Presny noted the land has clear views up and down the river, “a tremendous vantage point.”


“But what is that? What do we do (with the land)?” Sheiffer asked.


Sheiffer said people think of the downtown as being north of Court Street, but he sees the downtown extending downstream past the library and the Old Fourth Ward: “This is where the opportunity is.”


He talked of making the river more a part of the city’s oldest neighborhood.


Sheiffer was in a buoyant mood. He talked of opening possibilities rather than making specific plans.


“I have a wide open mind on everything,” he said.


WHAT’S NEXT

A plan for the Rock River in Janesville is likely to be a topic for a new city “green committee.” The committee’s goals and membership still are in development and will be discussed at the city council meeting on Monday, April 28, according to a city memo. City Manager Steve Sheiffer said creating a vision for the downtown riverfront could be a good first project for the committee.


WHAT CAME BEFORE

The city has bought up properties along the river for years, and it has built walkways along the river downtown. The city council adopted a plan last fall, the “City of Janesville Downtown Vision and Strategy,” which calls for enhancing the Rock River, encouraging arts and culture, building downtown housing, redeveloping historical buildings and connecting parks with walking trails, among other goals.



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