Funding Proposed for MI Soo Locks Project
To progress work on the Soo Locks, located in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed spending more than $75.3 million on the locks next year. If approved, the money would be spent on a 1,200-foot-long lock. The funding request was submitted to President Donald J. Trump's request for the budget year.
According to the Duluth News Tribune, the funding would be enough to begin construction of the upstream approach walls, move forward the design for the new Soo Lock chamber and finish construction on the upstream channel deepening.
Soo Locks Saga
The locks, first opened in 1855, consist of four total, but only the two larger locks are in use by passing ships; the proposed project would replace the other two with one larger lock to accommodate larger vessels.
According to the Detroit Free Press, 80 million tons of cargo pass through the locks annually on 8,000 freighters; a bipartisan group of legislators has coalesced around the cause of improving the aging structure in order to keep goods moving on the Great Lakes.
A 2015 study published by the Department of Homeland Security found that a shutdown of Poe lock, the largest of the four locks at Soo, would limit the shipping of iron and essentially halt all steel production in the Great Lakes region. That, DHS said, would lead to a complete stoppage in production of appliances, automobiles, construction equipment, farm equipment, mining equipment and railcars within weeks.
As of June 2018, the Army Corps of Engineers estimated that the total cost of the locks project at $875 million. The project as envisioned by the Corps would involve replacing the two smaller locks with one new lock the same size as the Poe, 100 feet wide by 1,200 feet long. Last summer, the state of Michigan promised $50 million toward upgrading the locks.
If the funding is approved, it would help keep the project on track for completion within seven to 10 years of construction beginning, noted Greg Turner, district engineer. The replacement lock was first authorized by Congress in 1986, but work has remained at a standstill for decades.
The new 1,200-foot-long lock would mirror the Poe, providing a degree of redundancy that would allow cargo to keep moving even if the Poe experienced an outage.
Last fall, the Army Corps allocated $32 million for some design and pre-construction work, which included deepening the upstream channel. If things move forward according to plan, channel deepening could be completed ($4.95 million), construction of the upstream approach walls could be started ($62 million) and design of the lock chamber could be continued ($8.355 million).
Each year of construction on the project will likely require the appropriation of additional funds. On Tuesday (March 12), the Army Corps of Engineers announced that the project had been included in the fiscal year 2020 president’s budget request to Congress.