Tribal Government & News

Giffen appointed to Willamette Falls Locks Commission

WEST LINN – Gov. Kate Brown has appointed Tribal Council member Jack Giffen Jr. as one of two Native American representatives to serve on the new 23-member Willamette Falls Locks Commission.

The commission will oversee the potential recommissioning of the Willamette Falls Locks, which possibly would create millions of dollars in transportation and recreation benefits for Oregonians.

Located on the Willamette River in West Linn, the Willamette Falls Locks are owned by the Army Corps of Engineers. The locks opened in 1873, but were decommissioned and given a “non-operational status” in December 2011 because of failing gate anchors and needed extensive repairs. A lack of potential national economic benefit has prevented the Corps of Engineers from justifying requests for federal funding to repair and re-open the locks.

Options for the Willamette Falls Locks include decommissioning them or transferring ownership from the Corps of Engineers to a new owner, either private, public or a combination of both.

The commission will work to advise state, local and regional stakeholders on the development and implementation of policies relating to the repair, re-opening, operation and maintenance of the Willamette Falls navigation canal and locks. The commission also will oversee transfer of ownership from the corps, as well as the operation and financing of the navigation canal and locks.

According to an economic study conducted by Portland-based ECONorthwest, Oregon would see economic benefits from recommissioning the locks estimated from $24 million to $99 million, as well as environmental benefits from reducing the number of truck trips on Portland-area roadways.

“Re-opening the locks and returning navigational access around Willamette Falls also holds tremendous historical and cultural value to Oregonians, and to the state’s Native American Tribes,” said a press release announcing the commission’s appointments. “Tribal history in the area dates back at least 14,000 years, once serving as a place to collect food and fiber, and to trade with other Tribes, as well as a spiritual and ceremonial gathering place for members of the region’s Tribes.”

Giffen, 66, is serving his fifth term on Tribal Council. He is joined on the commission by Umatilla Tribal Chairman Gary Burke.

During a Wednesday, May 2 meeting, West Linn Mayor Russ Axelrod was elected chair of the commission and Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader and West Linn resident Sandy Carter were named co-vice chairs.

The commission is scheduled to meet several times over the next two years to determine the best option for repair, re-opening, operation and maintenance of the navigation canal and locks.

The next meeting is slated for Wednesday, June 6, in West Linn City Hall.

The Oregon Legislature created the Willamette Falls Locks Commission in 2017 with the passage of Senate Bill 256.