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The hope is to eventually get the locks working to help with recreation potential and commerce up and down the Willamette River

PATRICK MALEE - The recommendation for a Congressional de-authorization and disposal of the Willamette Falls Locks may be a crucial step in getting them to reopen in the future. 
In the latest step toward potentially re-opening the 144-year-old Willamette Falls Locks, the U.S. Corps of Engineers (USACE) has tentatively recommended a Congressional de-authorization and disposal of the structure.

While words like "de-authorization" and "disposal" might indicate otherwise, the Corps recommendation is with the understanding that the facility would likely be acquired by another entity with the clear intention of re-opening the locks for commercial and recreational uses. To that end, the Corps' draft "Integrated Disposition Study and Environmental Assessment" — released May 24 — also states that the Corps would perform minor seismic retrofits and install perimeter fencing, debris and boat barriers before formally vacating its ownership of the locks.

"Our proposed measures would not preclude anyone who took over the locks from restoring them to operability,"

Corps spokesperson Kelly Janes said.

The locks, which first opened in 1873 adjacent to the future location of the West Linn Paper Company, were once an oft-used pathway on the Willamette River for freightage and recreation alike. They were closed in 2011, with the USACE citing "extensive corrosion" and a lack of proper funding to keep the locks open for operation.

In 2012, the National Trust for Historic Preservation classified the locks as one of the "most threatened national treasures" in the country. A task force to address the issue was created during the 2015 Oregon Legislative session.

Former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts was selected to lead the locks task force, and the group also carried a total of 17 representatives from West Linn, Oregon City, the Oregon Senate and House of Representatives, Clackamas County and Metro, among others. The completion of a Corps' disposition study was one of a series of recommendations finalized by the task force in 2016.

The task force also proposed that a new Willamette Falls Locks Commission be created by the 2017 Oregon Legislature. That commission would continue to explore options for a transfer of ownership and future re-opening of the locks.

The draft disposition study makes clear that the Corps no longer wants to be involved with the locks. The study, completed by Corps Colonel Jose Aguilar, stated that the locks in their current state present severe and life-threatening deficiencies related to corrosion and seismic stability. He estimated the total cost of a complete repair job to be $9,071,000.

Aguilar's final recommendation, which is referred to as "Non-Operational Lock," would "convey the facility to a future party after minimally addressing known seismic and safety deficiencies," thus leaving open the possibility of re-opening the locks at a later date after further improvements are made by the new owners. That option would cost $1,839,975 for the Corps, with additional holding costs of about $75,000 per year and transaction costs of about $50,000.

The Corps is taking public comments on the study, which can be viewed atbit.ly/2qXdstb.

Pamplin Media Group reporter Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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