Under a light drizzle on Friday, January 23rd, Congressman Kurt Schrader and former Congresswoman Darlene Hooley toured the Willamette Falls Locks with decision-makers from the Corps of Engineers Portland District: Colonel Jose Aguilar, District Engineer Kevin Brice, Bonneville Operations Project Manager Jerry Carroll and Willamette Falls Locks Project Manager Louis Landre. Joining in the tour from the Trust were Vice President Barb Pahl from Denver, Senior Field Director Anthony Veerkamp from San Francisco, and me, Peggy Sigler, Oregon Field Officer and Willamette Falls Locks Project Manager. Also participating: Sandy Carter, facilitator for our on-the-ground partner, One Willamette River Coalition; Gary Schmidt, Clackamas County Director of Public and Government Affairs; Andy Cotugno, METRO Policy Advisor; Brian Konen, West Linn Paper Chief Operating Officer; and Brian Spak, PGE Manager of Federal Government Affairs.
In a brief overview by Mr. Landre, he presented a detailed explanation of the risk of the corroded gudgeon anchors which triggered the closure of the Locks in 2011, and the inability of the Portland District to get Corps funds to repair them. During the tour, we got to see those gudgeon anchors up close, and compare them with others which were installed in a different manner and faring well. The gudgeon anchors are large, iron pins which anchor the swinging gates of the locks far back into the stone walls. Their testing and repair, or replacement with externally mounted anchors, are not insurmountable nor even expensive in the comparative scale of Corps of Engineers budgeting.
And therein lies one of the issues: the Willamette Falls Locks are too small of a waterway infrastructure project to create a blip on the Corps' national radar. But we will continue to raise awareness for repairing and reopening of the Locks. We need the Corps to commit in writing, letting the public know what the Corps wants to do with the Locks, be it cost-share, lease, transfer, or other unknown possibilities. Their own regulations prohibit passing on a public liability, so we understand that to mean that repairs must be made to make the Locks safe before a new owner/operator can take over. In the past, other Corps sites have been transferred to local ownership with an endowment. Continued work with the Portland District of the Corps of Engineers to craft a future for the Willamette Falls Locks is crucial.
Good questions were asked of the Corps on this VIP tour. Good will was generated. And some good direction for moving forward with our advocacy campaign with the Corps of Engineers came out of Congressman Schrader's visit to the Locks.
Thank you, Congressman Schrader, Col Aguilar, and others for making time in your busy days to tour the Locks with us.