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Council passes resolution urging the reopening of Willamette Falls Locks

Historic West Linn site has been closed since 2011

Photo Credit: TIDINGS FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The 141-year old Willamette Falls Locks were shut down in 2011, but many believe they still hold significant commercial and recreational value. Since 2011, a vital West Linn historic site has been just that — historic.

Once an oft-used pathway on the Willamette River for freightage and recreation alike, the Willamette Falls Locks were closed three years ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which cited “extensive corrosion” and a lack of proper funding to keep the locks open for operation.

In the Corps’ eyes, the locks were a historic landmark that simply could not stay open for everyday use. Others disagree, and on Monday the West Linn City Council voted to unanimously pass a resolution urging the Corps to “reopen the Locks to the general public, commercial, recreational and cultural marine traffic.”

The resolution was passed following a short presentation by Darlene Hooley and Lisa Naito, consultants hired by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to assist with lobbying and public relations on behalf of the campaign to reopen the locks.

Hooley, a West Linn resident and former U.S. Congresswoman, said that while in office she used to “go begging” every year to the Corps to keep the locks open.

“It is a part of the beginning of Oregon, it is our heritage,” Hooley said. “It was built by the tribes, I think it’s an important piece of our history. ... This is where it all started.”

The locks, which first opened in 1873, were designated in 2012 by the National Trust as one of the “most threatened National Treasures” in the country.

The locks were briefly reopened in January 2013 so the Canby Ferry could make its way downstream to a dry dock in Portland for repairs, and again seven months later as the ferry traveled back to Canby.

This past May, the Corps admitted that the closing had “adverse effects” under the Historic Preservation Act, and pledged to find ways to mitigate those effects.

“The Willamette Falls Locks are probably one of the signature historical sites in this state, if not west of the Mississippi River,” City Councilor Mike Jones said. “They were the first multi-channel locks built in the U.S., and they could be the only locks made of wood that are still working in the U.S.”

Beyond historic value, Hooley and Naito also argued that there remains a high demand to use the locks for commercial, transportation and recreation purposes.

Indeed, according to the Willamette Locks Economic Potential Report released by EcoNorthwest in September, “the economic potential of Willamette Falls Locks is multidimensional. The Willamette Falls Locks are a unique historical, commercial and recreational piece of Oregon’s transportation infrastructure.”

“Times have changed,” Hooley said. “We don’t have the tonnage we used to have (commercially) ... but we have a huge need for recreation purposes, and at some times I think there will be tonnage on those locks.”

Beyond asking the Corps to reopen the locks, the resolution passed Monday urged the state legislature to create a task force on the issue and pushed for the Oregon Congressional Delegation to support the locks being repaired and reopened.

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