Public meetings scheduled for lock and dam disposition study

by Colleen O'Connor Toberman

The Army Corps of Engineers is considering whether to maintain or transfer ownership of local locks and dams, including Upper St. Anthony Falls lock visible in the aerial above. (Photo: ACOE)

For over 100 years, locks and dams have controlled the Mississippi River's flow through the Twin Cities. But as shipping needs have shifted, some of the lock and dams' original functions may no longer be necessary.

Since the closure of the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock in 2015, commercial river traffic on the Mississippi upstream of downtown St. Paul has declined. This has raised questions about the future of the three locks and two dams in Minneapolis and St. Paul: Upper St. Anthony Falls, Lower St. Anthony Falls, and Lock and Dam No. 1, often called the "Ford Dam."

Unlocking new visions for the river

River lovers have brought forward a variety of possibilities. FMR supports The Falls project, led by Friends of the Lock and Dam, which would repurpose the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock into a visitor center hosting river-centric activities year-round.

We're also intrigued by the American Rivers proposal to completely remove the Lower St. Anthony and Ford dams to restore the river gorge to its wild roots. We support a thorough community process to further examine this idea. (Read more about our position on dam removal.)

What's happened so far

In 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which currently owns and operates the locks, began a disposition study to consider the future of all three locks. They held public meetings in the summer of 2018.

However, Congress has since taken action through the Water Resources Development Act of 2018 to expedite the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock disposition study separately from the other two locks.

Completing the Upper St. Anthony study more quickly might allow The Falls project to move forward at a faster pace, potentially accelerating the transformation from underused infrastructure into a community riverfront destination.

Next up: study sessions

The Corps will host two public meetings to discuss the Upper St. Anthony disposition study.

Aug. 13, 6-8 p.m.
Mill City Museum
704 S 2nd St.
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Aug. 19, 6-8 p.m.
Michael Dowling School
3900 W. River Pkwy.
Minneapolis, MN 55406

In a nutshell, the Corps' disposition studies will explore whether it makes sense for the U.S. government to continue to own and/or operate this infrastructure, and if not, what entity would or could take on its ownership and maintenance.

Several options, ranging from "no action" to complete infrastructure removal, will be considered for each lock and dam. However, the Corps considers dam removal at Upper St. Anthony very unlikely. That's because Xcel Energy owns most of the dam, there's strong political support to keep it, and the city of Minneapolis depends on the dam to maintain sufficient river height at its municipal water supply intake upstream.

The Upper St. Anthony draft report is expected in spring 2020. The studies for Lower St. Anthony and No. 1 (a.k.a. the Ford dam) will begin after that. All studies will include environmental impact statements.

More information about the meetings and the disposition studies is available on the Army Corps website.

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