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Willamette Locks need to close completely

Three gates are corroded, could fail soon without rehab

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last week that it will no longer operate the Willamette Falls Locks.

The Corps had operated the locks on the Willamette River near West Linn at least once per month until the Dec. 1 announcement. A preliminary report in November signaled that the locks would likely have to close, and the announcement finalized that decision. The locks closed to the public early this year.

The locks are made up of seven gates with anchors that are about 50 years old and experiencing excessive corrosion, which increases the potential for failure. The report highlighted the distressed condition of three anchors in particular.

After inspecting the locks to validate the identified problems, Portland District Engineer Col. John W. Eisenhauer moved the 138-year-old lock into a 'non-operational' status.

'We had honored an informal agreement to allow commercial customers to lock through during our monthly maintenance cycles,' Eisenhauer said. 'In light of this report we cannot operate the locks at all, even for maintenance. Public safety is our No. 1 priority. With the condition of the gate anchors, we do not believe the locks can operate without increasing the risk to the public.'

A gate failure could cause damage to the infrastructure or to boats in the lock, Eisenhauer added.

The Corps will continue to evaluate how to repair and restore the locks to an operational status under current funding constraints. Funding for navigation locks nationwide is based on tonnage of cargo, with higher-volume locks receiving funding priority. The Willamette Falls Locks has been primarily a recreational lock since the 1970s, meaning a low funding priority.

'We understand the importance of Willamette Falls Locks to the local community, and continue to meet regularly with federal, state, county and city officials, industry representatives and other interested parties to identify potential solutions for both operations and long-term reliability,' said Jerry Carroll, operations manager for the Bonneville Lock and Dam Project, which maintains the locks.