U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transfers Ownership of Willamette Falls Locks

The Willamette Locks Commission completed a transfer agreement between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Willamette Falls Locks Authority earlier this month, averting the permanent closure of the Locks and restoring the possibilities for public use of the historic river transportation waterway.

Senator Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City, said in a press release that he helped to spearhead this process over the years by facilitating dialogues between the state and private interests who championed the restoration of the Locks for public, open use.

The work spanned his time as a state representative for the Canby area and a Clackamas County commissioner.

“This is an important step forward to bringing the Locks under state ownership,” Kennemer said. “The Locks Authority can now lead on developing a strategy on how to restore the Locks for usable functionality for the public. This has been a long-time coming, and is an important major step for public use and commerce on the river.”

Kennemer, a Senate appointee to the Locks Commission, also served on the Willamette Falls Locks Task Force while he was a state rep.

The Willamette Falls Locks.

It was in that role that Kennemer worked on the idea of creating a public corporation that could manage the maintenance and usage by the public and private commercial interests if the river was once again navigable with working locks.

Kennemer noted that in completing the Commission work, the remaining $57,698 of the $871,145 grant dollars from the Oregon Legislature and local stakeholders will be transferred to the new Locks Authority.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with $6.2 million in federal funding made available in March 2022, can make the necessary seismic repairs beginning in September 2022.

Legislative work led by Kennemer helped secure an additional $7.5 million in legislative funding for engaging in repairs of the elevator unit to make the Locks fully functional.

The Locks, circa 1915.

“Having worked on this for many years in many elected capacities, it’s exciting to see the culmination of a vision of a functional and useful working Willamette Falls Locks,” said Kennemer.

“The Locks is not only a jewel for Clackamas County, as a 149-year-old piece of infrastructure, but it also has a significant local history worth preserving. Additionally, the Locks are of cultural significance to our native tribes. This step forward is the start of a new chapter for the Locks.”

Kennemer said that as the functional maintenance work begins, the Authority will also engage in building business and long-term management plans for future uses of the Locks.

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