The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 16, 2007

New Soo lock is dead in the water?

By The Building Tradesman

The Bush Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers are apparently not inclined to recommend the movement of federal money to build a new $340 million lock in Sault Ste. Marie.

The champion of the project, Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee), wrote in a Feb. 27 letter to the chief of the Army Corps of Engineers (which has jurisdiction over the Soo Locks) that the decision "ignores the importance of the Soo locks to our nation's economy and is negligent in protecting our navigation infrastructure."

The federal government has already spent about $13 million planning a second lock that would act as a twin to the 40-year-old Poe Lock - the only lock capable of handing 1,000-foot freighters, the largest on the Great Lakes. Stupak pointed out that each year more than 80 million tons of freight move through the locks, including 70 percent of all raw materials used in the steel industry.

"If the Poe Lock was rendered unusable due to age, accidental damage, terrorism, or any other reason, it would disable American industry by halting the shipment of ore, coal, wheat, and other commodities," Stupak wrote. In a not-so-subtle dig, he pointed out that the Army Corps of Engineers was also the group that "failed to shore up the levees in New Orleans."

There are three operational Soo Locks, which raise and lower ships between lakes Huron and Superior. Congress OKd the construction of the Poe Lock twin in 1986, but has never released money for its construction.

Stupak said his office has seen a communication from the Army Corps that that money won't be forthcoming. Once again, Bush did not put a new lock in his budget presented to Congress. The federal government's portion of the cost would be about $250 million, with the rest picked up by Great Lakes states. But according to a published report, John Paul Woodley Jr., assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, said "no decision of any kind has been made" about a new lock. Woodley said he would draw no conclusions until studying a cost-benefit analysis and consulting experts - although it's difficult to believe that appropriate studies and consulting haven't taken place over the last 21 years.