FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
To unlock project funding, community groups urge U.S. Army Corps to reconsider disposition recommendation.
December 30, 2020 (MINNEAPOLIS) – The President signed legislation Sunday that potentially unlocks $5.3 million to initiate the revitalization of Minneapolis’ Upper Lock at St. Anthony Falls, clearing the way for public riverfront use.
The Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA 2020) will allow for enhanced public access to the Mississippi River at the lock and dam site in downtown Minneapolis. The public-serving cause has been championed by Friends of the Falls, a public charity and community convener, since its founding in 2016.
As vice chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, Senator Amy Klobuchar was the leading policy advocate for public use of the city’s central riverfront. WRDA 2020 directs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which owns and operates the lock and dam and is responsible for the site’s flood management, to divest their interests in the surrounding property.
The act also directs the USACE to maintain its current water management and flood mitigation responsibility at the Upper Lock facility – even after divesting ownership in the surrounding property. Continued professional management and flood mitigation is thought to be essential as the risk of flooding has increased with climate change. In addition, over 1 million Twin Cities residents rely on water from the Mississippi for their water supply.
The USACE’s recently issued study of the site called for its full disposition with an undisclosed monetary incentive to the new owner, which would mean relinquishing all property rights as well as operation responsibilities of the lock and dam.
A partial disposition of the property, as directed in WRDA 2020, would release $5.3 million, secured by Friends of the Falls. This includes $2.5 million in private donations and $2.8 million in money from the state’s Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund.
“When we invest in our waterways and infrastructure, we invest in a clean, safe environment that will benefit our children for generations to come,” Senator Klobuchar said. “In addition to improving water infrastructure across the country, this bill will help create more public recreation space along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis and help protect our beloved Great Lakes.”
“We are celebrating this hoped-for outcome today thanks to the support and commitment of so many public-spirited leaders and organizations who always believed that the Falls belongs to the people,” said Mark Andrew, president of Friends of the Falls. “It’s a long list that includes Senators Klobuchar and Smith, Representatives Craig and Omar, the City of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and our new partners at the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI).”
Because of the site’s ecological, cultural and spiritual significance – it is considered sacred land by the Dakota and other Indigenous communities – the bill’s passage is a watershed moment for Minneapolis.
A successful ownership transition will allow the City of Minneapolis, or a designated party, to redevelop the land surrounding the lock as envisioned by the community. The lock and dam, close to the iconic Stone Arch Bridge and the historic falls – called Owámniyomni, meaning whirlpool or turbulent water in the Dakota language – is part of Minneapolis’ central riverfront area, including an 800-acre stretch of the Mississippi designated as an Historic District.
“Revitalizing the lock and dam site is an amazing opportunity to connect downtown to the central riverfront and further realize our natural asset in the Falls,” said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. “Moreover, it’s an opportunity to hear directly from our Native community, and how they foresee reimagining this sacred place on our Mississippi.”
Development plans are still in the ideation phase and will be shaped through robust engagement that centers Native voices. Under the leadership of NACDI and Dakota Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, Friends of the Falls is working to create a Native Advisory Council to guide the planning process and counsel the project design team – Seattle-based landscape design firm, GGN, and local architectural firm, VJAA. “The team stands ready to move forward with the community on what we view as a precedent-setting opportunity to plan inclusively for a nationally significant site,” said project director Kjersti Duval.
“Friends of the Falls recognizes the importance of centering Dakota voices and Indigenous perspectives as the source for this project,” said Robert Lilligren, president and CEO of NACDI. “We joined as a partner to better engage Native communities after we had honest dialogue with the Friends about how traditional engagement has not worked for us.”
Friends of the Falls invites the public to share their ideas for revitalizing the site at meetings and engagement events through Summer 2021. Learn more at: TheFalls.org
About Friends of the Falls
Friends of the Falls was founded in February 2016 by Paul Reyelts and Mark Wilson as a 501(c)(3) public non-profit, seeking to transform the Upper Lock at the Falls into a community gathering place, restoring public access to the river. Since its inception, the organization has raised over $5 million for preliminary design work, built a coalition of more than 24 riverfront community-minded organizations and established a meaningful working relationship with Dakota tribal leadership to advance the concept.
A timeline of The Falls Initiative project milestones is available at: https://thefalls.org/about/#timeline
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