Locals consider plans for St. Anthony Falls lock and dam

A study from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will guide the site’s future ownership.

A view of the St. Anthony Falls locks as seen on Wednesday, Oct. 23. 

Parker Johnson

A view of the St. Anthony Falls locks as seen on Wednesday, Oct. 23. 

by Emma Dill

Local officials and groups are weighing how to move forward with plans to redesign public areas near the lock and dam at Upper St. Anthony Falls. 

The area, which is owned by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, closed to commercial shipping in 2015 to curb the spread of invasive carp species in the Mississippi River. Since then, some local officials and organizations have advocated to make the area more accessible to the public and to add more educational resources. 

The future of the site depends on which stakeholder will take over the lock and dam. 

One solution proposed by the Friends of the Lock and Dam, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, would add a welcome center to the site and improve recreational access to the Mississippi River, said Mark Andrew, the group’s president.

A competing plan from hydroelectricity company Crown Hydro proposes installing a turbine that would generate electricity using water flowing over the falls. The plan encountered a major setback when Xcel Energy terminated its contract with the company last year. 

The Crown Hydro proposal does not align with the City of Minneapolis’s vision for the riverfront area, said Ward 3 City Council member Steve Fletcher. The Minneapolis City Council approved a resolution in April 2018 supporting the Friends of the Lock and Dam plan.

Determining which plan is implemented will depend on what government entity the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decides will take control of the site, Andrew said. City, state or federal agencies could take control. 

A study by the U.S. Army Corps to be released this spring will use public input to determine the site’s future ownership. 

In order for either Crown Hydro or Friends of the Lock and Dam to implement their plans for the site, they will have to partner with the government entity that assumes control of the area.

The Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association board informally approved a letter last week supporting the Friends of the Lock and Dam proposal. The letter was drafted and brought forward by the St. Anthony Falls Alliance, a collection of neighborhood associations including the MHNA, and addressed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

MHNA Executive Director Chris Lautenschlager said the organization supports making the falls area more accessible to the public, which is also a goal laid out in the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation’s Central Mississippi Riverfront master plan.

St. Anthony Falls currently draws thousands of Minneapolis residents and tourists each year, but plans put forward by the Friends of the Lock and Dam would teach visitors about the area’s past, Andrew said.

“It’s got all this history that hasn’t been told properly,” he said. “Our aspiration is to create an internationally significant project that will draw people from around the world.”

The project’s price tag will be in the “tens of millions of dollars” and will be financed through public and private funds, Andrew said.

Moving forward, Friends of the Lock and Dam will hold engagement sessions in neighborhoods near St. Anthony Falls, which will include the campus community, Andrew said.

“Students will be a substantial stakeholder community because of the proximity between the central riverfront and the University,” he said. “We want to activate as much participation with the student community as we can.”

Fletcher said he hopes that the implemented plans will make the river more of a focus in the neighborhoods surrounding the Falls.

“We really want to make sure that the river is for everyone. We’re really trying to increase access. We want to clean and restore the river and make it something that’s a valuable asset for everybody who lives along the river,” he said.