Group proposes visitor, interpretive center for Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam

Friends of the Lock and Dam, a new civic organization, is proposing that the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam, which was closed to navigation last year, be developed into a world-class visitor and interpretive center, according to a press release.

However, this vision is threatened by a proposal to put a hydroelectric plant at the site.

The group filed a motion on Oct. 11 before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to “reject a current proposal from Crown Hydro to build a hydroelectric plant at the Lock and Dam or at least order an environmental impact statement.”

The FERC environmental review of the Crown Hydro proposal is open to public comment until Nov. 2.

The Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam is nestled in the Minneapolis riverfront area, adjacent to the iconic Stone Arch Bridge, and in the middle of an 800-acre stretch of the Mississippi designated as a National Register Historic District. In 1988, it became part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service. Over the past 20 years, the surrounding area has seen more than $2 billion in public and private development.

According to the release, Crown Hydro has made multiple proposals since the mid ‘90s to construct a power plant on or near the site. In 2005, after a failed attempt to obtain a license, Crown Hydro “unsuccessfully sought FERC's help to take the parkland by eminent domain.”

These proposals have been strongly opposed by the City of Minneapolis, the National Park Service and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, as well as hundreds of neighborhood residents. Many are concerned about losing historic and cultural values, preclusion of public recreation and river access, and noise and vibration impacts from the plant's industrial operations. 

Friends of the Lock and Dam was formed “to create a community-focused initiative to explore public uses of the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam, and to ensure that the proposed hydroelectric plant does not preempt future uses for the site,” the release said.  

The group is asking FERC to order a full environmental impact statement before further consideration of the Crown Hydro proposal, or to deny it outright as inconsistent with the broader environmental and public benefit requirements for a FERC license.  

Construction of Water Works Park is scheduled to begin in 2018. Friends of the Lock & Dam presented a preliminary concept design for the area that includes a new 7,500-square-foot visitor center, a 50,000-square-foot interpretive center, a one-acre park for events, a restaurant, an event space, an observation deck and more.

According to the release, the estimated $45 million project would be funded through a new public-private partnership. Revenues from concessions, parking and events would be used for ongoing operation and programming. The group has already received a pledge of $5 million from a private donor for project planning and development costs. If approved, construction is estimated to begin in the 2021-2023 timeframe in sync with the riverside phase of Water Works Park.