Mayor Hodson joins other area mayors in urging locks reopening
Hodson said the whole premise began through discussions he had with the mayor of West Linn, Russell Axelrod, wanting to see the locks get repaired and become operational again.
The Willamette Falls Locks opened in 1873 and have been closed since 2011. In April 2009, as part of the federal government's economic stimulus plan, the locks were reopened at a cost of $2.7 million, but due to a continued lack of governmental support the locks closed again in 2011.
"The City of Canby believes strongly that the locks should be repaired and reopened, allowing the Willamette River to remain one river for navigation purposes from its headwaters south of Eugene to its mouth in Portland," Hodson's letter reads. "The river offers a wide variety of economic and cultural benefits for our community and the entire state of Oregon."
"It's about commerce and recreation, those are the two big factors to it," Hodson told the Herald. "We look at those of us that are upriver, our ability to be able to utilize the locks to get down river, and there's going to be a great development like Willamette Falls Legacy Project.
What's that going to mean for our region and our area? It's a very big deal."
The legacy project is a multi-phase development at the old Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City. The $60 million project is expected to bring mixed-use development, including homes and businesses, as well as a Riverwalk that will allow people to get close to Willamette Falls for the first time in about 150 years.
The project is supposed to break ground in summer 2018 and be completed by 2022.
Hodson said looking at the recreational opportunities on the Willamette River near Canby for a boat launch, the development of a marina for boating — those are very big ideas, and those ideas need to come to fruition and have to start somewhere.
"We're not speaking to investors yet, that's too far off," Hodson said.
City Councilor Tyler Smith said he would like to see a water taxi begin offering passengers transportation upriver to the Willamette Falls area, although he also stated that a water taxi "is not super high on the list of things we need right now."
"I would love to see a marina having a few shops, a restaurant, a boat launch, and a grassy park where people can walk down to the water," Smith said. "Our problem is actually that the city's water front is a narrow little piece of land behind the golf course. Obviously, the county has a whole bunch of land right next to us to the north. I'm interested in figuring out something that everyone can utilize. If we can create a public-private partnership that would be great."
City Councilor Greg Parker said the Willamette Falls Legacy Project is going to be transformative for the region, and once the Riverwalk opens near the falls it's going to be one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Oregon.
"AS a policy maker, what I'm excited about is how total the support is," Parker said. "The legislature and Portland Metro, they came up with a plan for a person to come in and buy the property and he signed onto the plan. That's remarkable. Second, it captures the imagination of everyday people. I went to the public meeting where they unveiled the project and I've never seen so many people excited by this — just regular Joe's, not politicians, were there. Opening the locks is not part of the legacy project but it certainly would add another dimension to the river for Canby."
Hodson said federal funding to repair and re-open the locks is a major hurdle that must be overcome, and that's the point of the letters written by mayors from cities up and down the Willamette River.
He also said that the legacy project and talks of reopening the locks are helping to spur conversation about building a new, larger hotel in Canby.
"That will definitely be an enticing piece to a hotel company or a group of private investors that will work to attract a hotel here," Hodson said.