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Congress May Consider Funding New Sault Ste. Marie Lock in January

Looking upstream are, from left, the MacArthur Lock, the Poe lock, the Davis and Sabin Locks.  The new lock would replace the Davis and Sabin Locks.  At the top of the photo is the International Bridge connecting Michigan on the left, and Ontario.

Looking upstream are, from left, the MacArthur Lock, the Poe lock, the Davis and Sabin Locks. The new lock would replace the Davis and Sabin Locks. At the top of the photo is the International Bridge connecting Michigan on the left, and Ontario.

Looking East from the administration building, the waterway curves toward Lake Huron.  From the Corps of Engineers webcam.

Looking East from the administration building, the waterway curves toward Lake Huron. From the Corps of Engineers webcam.

Looking West through the Corps of Engineers webcam on the administration building, we have a water-level view of the locks and the bridge.

Looking West through the Corps of Engineers webcam on the administration building, we have a water-level view of the locks and the bridge.

Congress is considering funding a new lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan - a $457 million dollar undertaking that would rank as the largest navigation infrastructure project on the Great Lakes in a generation.

Construction of the lock would bring up to 250 jobs annually to northern Michigan and continue for a decade.
Funding could come either through a massive stimulus bill or appropriations bills that will be considered by Congress as early as January. The new lock has been in the planning stage for two decades, and is ready to move forward once funding is secured.

"The need for a second Poe-sized lock is critical," said Patrick J. O'Hern, president of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF) and vice president and general manager of Bay Shipbuilding Company, Green Bay, Wisconsin.

"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considers the Soo Locks the single point of failure that could bring Great Lakes shipping to a standstill. The new lock was authorized more than 20 years ago. America has waited too long for this project to move forward," said O'Hern.

The “Soo” Locks connect Lake Superior to the lower four Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. They handle more than 80 million tons of iron ore, coal, grain and other cargos each year. They system consists of four locks: the Davis, Sabin, MacArthur and Poe that handle ship traffice through a 21-foot change in elevation between Lakes Superior and Huron. The Davis and Sabin were built in 1914 and 1919 repectively, and the new lock would replace them.

The MacArthur Lock was built in 1943, and is large enough to handle oceangoing vessels that must first pass through the smaller locks in the Welland Canal on the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The Poe Lock was re-built in 1968, after the Saint Lawrence Seaway had opened. It is 366 meters (1200 feet) long, 34 meters (110 feet) wide and 10 meters (32 feet) deep. It can take ships carrying 72,000 tons of cargo. The Poe is the only lock that can handle the large lakers used on the upper lakes.

Great Lakes shipping is necessary for raw materials-dependent industries in the United States. By one estimate, shipping via the Lakes annually saves customers $3.6 billion compared to the next least-expensive transportation mode.

"… vessels that are restricted to the Poe Lock represent nearly 80 percent of U.S.-flag carrying capacity on the Great Lakes," said Donald Cree, first vice president of GLMTF. "If the Poe Lock is incapacitated for a lengthy period of time, America's steel mills won't have access to Minnesota and Michigan iron ore; Great Lakes power plants won't be able to receive clean-burning low-sulfur coal; the entire American economy is at risk," he warned.

The new lock was authorized in 1986 at full federal expense, and groundbreaking could begin immediately. At the peak of construction, 250 workers will be on the job. Nearly one out of every four dollars spent on the project will wind up as regional incomes in an area where $20,000 a year is considered a good-paying job.

(See IDR, "Malfunction Highlights Need for Second Poe-Sized Lock", IDR, September/October 2008, pp. 34 - 35.)

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