The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 13, 2018

New lock at the Soo takes a step forward

By The Building Tradesman

The construction of a twin to the Poe Lock - the largest of the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie - took a step forward with the release of a long-awaited, revised study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Released late last month, the study focuses on the economic impact to the nation (it had not included economic or national security concerns previously) if the Poe Lock undergoes a long-term mechanical malfunction or if it is disabled by a terrorist attack.

Currently, the Poe Lock, built in 1968, is the only one at the Soo capable of handling the largest 1,000-foot bulk freighters for movement throughout the Great Lakes.  

The New Soo Lock Economic Validation Study Report re-emphasized a 2007 study in which the Army Corps "seeks an updated authorization to construct a new lock at the Soo Locks complex." The study said the Soo Locks complex "is considered the lynchpin of the Great Lakes navigation system and are national critical infrastructure due to their national economic importance and impact on
national security." 

Ten out of eleven integrated steel mills in the Great Lakes region depend primarily on taconite pellets that must transit the Soo Locks. In 2017, the Poe Lock handled 89 percent of the total tonnage that transited the Soo complex. The new twin lock, if approved in a Congressional appropriation, would be built in place of an unused lock and used when the Poe is being serviced, and vice versa, providing a backup system that currently doesn't exist.

President Trump in April expressed support for a new lock, which would cost in the neighborhood of $1 billion. He would have to include the money in a budget request. This Army Corps study emphasized the negative economic impact of a failure of the Poe Lock, which could send the nation into a recession.

The Soo Locks allow ships to navigate the 21-foot drop between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.

“If this lock shuts down, steel plants in Ohio and Indiana and Kentucky shut down," said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters. "Auto plants in Texas, Tennessee, California, and Michigan shut down. The American economy shuts down. It is time our time to invest in our country and the wellbeing of our economy for future generations and pass the Soo Locks Modernization Act."