2017-02-02 / News

Will Infrastructure Upgrade Include Soo Locks Under Trump Administration?

By Carl Stoddard
Capital News Service
Michigan State University School of Journalism


Michigan hopes a new 1,200-foot-long lock at Sault Ste. Marie will be among federal infrastructure projects to be funded during the Trump administration. Two of the four Soo Locks at the Sault are closed, Sabin and Davis, seen in the north canal (left), and a new lock would be built on that side of the facility. In the south canal are the 1,200-foot Poe Lock and the 800-foot MacArthur Lock (far right). Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan is on the right. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photograph) Michigan hopes a new 1,200-foot-long lock at Sault Ste. Marie will be among federal infrastructure projects to be funded during the Trump administration. Two of the four Soo Locks at the Sault are closed, Sabin and Davis, seen in the north canal (left), and a new lock would be built on that side of the facility. In the south canal are the 1,200-foot Poe Lock and the 800-foot MacArthur Lock (far right). Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan is on the right. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photograph) Almost everyone agrees the Soo Locks need to be upgraded. Modernizing the Soo Locks won’t be cheap, however, and so far Congress hasn’t approved funding for the work. But there are signs that might change under the administration of President Trump, who has pledged to repair the country’s aging infrastructure.

Congress already has approved construction of a new lock at Sault Ste. Marie, but hasn’t approved spending money on the project. The total construction cost is estimated at $580 million and would likely take 10 years to complete, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the Soo Locks on the U.S. side.

“I think it’s too early to say with any certainty what Trump’s infrastructure improvement plan will mean for Michigan, but I’m optimistic,” said newly elected U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, a Republican from Watersmeet whose district includes Sault Ste. Marie.

“According to documents obtained by the Kansas City Star and the News Tribune, reconstruction of the Soo Locks reportedly ranks among the administration’s top 50 infrastructure projects, and for good reason,” Mr. Bergman said.

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security report predicted that an unscheduled six-month closure of the Poe Lock, the largest of the Soo Locks, could hurt the U.S. economy, devastating industries, crippling the job market, and driving up unemployment in the Great Lakes region, Rep. Bergman said.

“I said during my campaign and I’ve said during the last month or so that I’ve been serving the First District in Congress that repairing and expanding the Soo Locks is one of my highest priorities,” he said. “This is something that, left unchecked, could have real consequences not just for our economy, but for homeland security. It needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed now.”

In his State of the State address January 17, Governor Rick Snyder said the Soo Locks are the state’s top priority at the national level.

“We need a second 1,000-foot lock,” Gov. Snyder said. “Our entire economy in this country is at risk with having only one lock. Homeland Security has said that themselves.”

In his address, Gov. Snyder said he plans to discuss the locks with the new president and Congress.

Improving the locks is also a top priority for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said Rich Studley, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer.

Improving the locks is “critically important” for Michigan’s economy and job growth, Mr. Studley said. His organization represents 6,800 employers, trade associations, and local chambers around the state. “Modernizing the Soo Locks is at the top of the list of our things to do.”

Mr. Studley said when he talked to Michigan’s U.S. senators and representatives, all expressed a strong interest in upgrading the locks.

“I think there are some positive developments at the federal level to modernize the Soo Locks,” said Mr. Studley, who cautioned that plans still are in the very early stages with the new administration, “but the early signals are very encouraging.”

The Homeland Security study, released in 2015, found that an “unanticipated closure” of the Poe Lock could cause more than 10 million people in the United States to lose their jobs and push North American economies into a severe recession.

“The recession impacts would be concentrated in the Great Lakes region though California and Texas would experience some of the largest job losses,” the study said. “Entire manufacturing industries would be debilitated,” including automobiles, appliances, construction, farming, mining equipment, railcars, and locomotives.

According to the Corps of Engineers, an average of 10,000 ships a year pass through the locks, carrying about 40 million tons of iron ore and coal.

In fact, about 90% of the world’s iron ore moves through the Soo Locks.

In his inaugural speech, Mr. Trump repeated his campaign pledge to rebuild America’s infrastructure, although he didn’t mention the Soo Locks.

“We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation,” Pres. Trump said in a speech after his swearingin ceremony.

Under the previous administration, U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats from Michigan, repeatedly pushed for a new lock.

Sen. Stabenow’s office said that she’s continuing that effort to seek funding for improvements at the locks. Sen. Peters is expected to join in that continuing effort.

In 2015, the Obama administration approved $1.35 million for the Corps of Engineers to review upgrades for the Soo Locks.

The agency said it looked at improving or replacing the 1,200-footlong Poe Lock, the largest one at the Soo.

Lake Superior is about 600 feet above sea level. Water runs out of the lake through the St. Marys River, dropping about 25 feet as it flows roughly 75 miles down to Lake Huron. As the water drops from Lake Superior, it forms rapids along the section of the river separating Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, from its sister city, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

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