Congress is considering the possible funding of the construction of a new lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, a half-billion dollar undertaking that would rank as the largest navigation infrastructure project on the Great Lakes in a generation.
Construction of a new lock at “the Soo” would bring up to 250 jobs annually to northern Michigan and continue for a decade. Estimated cost of the lock is about $475m. One economist has likened the economic impact of lock construction to opening an automobile plant in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
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, but now 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 Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF), and Vice President and General Manager of Bay Shipbuilding Company. “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 first authorized more than 20 years ago. America has waited too long for this project to move forward. The time is now.”
The Soo Locks connect Lake Superior to the lower four Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. The locks handle more than 80 million tons of iron ore, coal, grain, and other cargos each year.
The benefits of Great Lakes shipping are extraordinary for raw materials-dependent industries across the region and nation. By one estimate, shipping via the Lakes annually saves customers $3.6b compared to the next least-expensive transportation mode.
“The reason the need is so critical is vessels that are restricted to the Poe Lock represent nearly 70 percent of U.S.-Flag carrying capacity on the Great Lakes,” said Donald Cree, 1st Vice President of GLMTF and National Vice President, Great Lakes, for American Maritime Officers. “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.”
The new lock has been authorized at full Federal expense. 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.
“This lock is about much more than keeping cargo moving on the Great Lakes,” said James H.I. Weakley, 2nd Vice President of GLMTF and President of Lake Carriers’ Association. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has determined that Great Lakes shipping saves its customers $3.6b a year when compared to the next least-costly land-based mode of transportation. Those savings keep Americans employed and American industries competitive. The new lock will be a boon to consumers and employers alike.”
“The Lakes had a preview of the disaster that awaits us if the Poe Lock fails just a couple months ago,” said John D. Baker, 3rd Vice President of GLMTF and President of the ILA’s Great Lakes District Council. “A mechanical failure closed the Poe Lock for a brief period and three vessels had to go to anchor. An entire industry was crossing its fingers. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was able to resume lock operations quickly, but we can’t bank on that always being the case. Congress must include a second Poe-sized lock in any economic stimulus package or an appropriations bill.”
GLMTF was founded in Toledo, Ohio, in 1992 to promote domestic and international shipping on the Great Lakes. With more than 80 member companies and organizations, it is the largest coalition to ever speak for the Great Lakes shipping community and draws its membership from both labor and management representing U.S.-Flag vessel operators, shipboard and longshore unions, port authorities, cargo shippers, terminal operators, shipyards, and other Great Lakes interests. Its goals include restoring adequate funding for dredging of Great Lakes deep-draft ports and waterways, construction of a second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan; protecting the nation’s cabotage laws; maximizing the Lakes overseas trade; and opposing exports and increased diversions of Great Lakes water.