Soo Locks Could be Upgraded by 2030 if Federal Funding is Approved

Soo Locks in Sault Ste Marie

An ore ship passes through the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., June 10, 2005. Vessels large and small pass through the structures known as the Soo Locks more than 7,000 times a year. It’s an indispensable gateway on the Great Lakes shipping route, a lifeline for industries as diverse as Detroit auto manufacturing and wheat farming in the nation’s heartland. (AP Photo/John Flesher) AP(John Flesher AP)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District estimates an upgrade to the Soo Locks could be completed by 2030 if the nearly $1 billion dollars in federal funding the undertaking would require is granted.

Currently, the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie has two working locks for ships transporting iron and other materials throughout the Great Lakes. Only one of those locks, the Poe, is big enough for about 60 percent of ships that pass through. Michigan officials and members of the shipping industry have long pushed for a plan to combine two of the oldest, smaller locks into another large lock to complement the Poe Lock.

Once construction gets going, it could take between seven and 10 years to complete, said Lt. Col. Dennis Sugrue, district engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit district.

“2030 is the year that we’ve set our sites on,” he said, adding, “that’s not locked in stone.”

The latest U.S Army Corps of Engineers study gave the project a benefit cost ratio of 2.42, up from a .73 in a study of the project released in 2005.

The benefit cost ratio for the project needed to be over 1 for the Soo Locks project to get serious consideration for funding, which the report estimated would cost between $922 million and $1 billion based on projections for materials, labor and extreme weather conditions in the area.

Sugrue told reporters Monday the biggest change from the last report was correcting the assumption that alternate modes of transportation were available for the material being carted through the Soo Locks if a major breakdown occurred.

“Domestic steel production is almost entirely reliant on this project,” he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers is requesting funding consideration in fiscal year 2020.

Several members of Michigan’s Congressional delegation saw the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report as a positive step, and are looking to include funding for the Soo Locks project in water infrastructure legislation.

The project recently gained some additional attention when President Donald Trump expressed verbal support for fixing the locks during a rally in Macomb County.

“Do you know what the Soo Locks are? Well, the Soo Locks are going to hell. We’re gonna get them fixed up,” he told the crowd.

Sugrue said the updated Soo Locks report was already well underway prior to Trump’s visit to Michigan, but said “it’s great to hear his voice of support for it.”

“This is an exciting time for us,” Sugrue said.

Michigan’s Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie are a connector for shipping iron, coal, grain and other materials from the shores of Lake Superior to the rest of the country. In 2016, U.S.-flagged Great Lakes freighters moved 83.3 million tons of cargo, according to the Cleveland-based Lake Carriers Association.

A Department of Homeland Security report concluded a hypothetical unexpected breakdown at the Poe Lock lasting six months would cripple the United States economy and cost 11 million jobs, and predicted the national unemployment rate would hit 11.3 percent.

The report found a shutdown of Great Lakes steel production caused by a sudden halt in ore transportation would in turn shut down almost all North American appliance, automobile, construction, farm and mining equipment, and railcar production within weeks.