Shipping and Logistics

Michigan Governor Seeks Funding to Upgrade Soo Locks

Written by Sandy Williams

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has asked the state’s members of Congress to begin the process of obtaining funding for a renovation of the Soo Locks.

“The Soo Locks are crucial shipping link for some our nation’s biggest industries,” said Snyder. “The increase in outages from maintenance, redundancy and capacity issues poses significant economic consequences for both Michigan and the nation. That’s why I’m calling on the federal government to fund the much needed construction of this aging infrastructure.”

In his letter to members of Congress, Snyder requested funding to replace the Davis and Sabin Locks with a larger, single lock. Congress authorized construction of a second Poe-sized lock thirty years ago but the $580 million funding needed was never appropriated. The Army Corps of engineers estimates that to just upgrade the Poe Lock will require at least $87 million.

The Soo Locks consist of four locks: the Poe, MacArthur, Davis and Sabin. The Poe Lock is the only one that can handle the 1000-foot lake freighters that carry iron ore to steel mills along the Great Lakes. The MacArthur can accommodate smaller freighters and private and commercial vessels. The Davis was closed in 1989 and the Sabin has not been used since 2008; both are about 100 years old and too shallow for transit of bulk carriers.

A study last year by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security highlighted the economic crisis that would occur should the Poe Lock in Sault Ste. Marie suffer an unexpected closure during peak shipping season. According to the report, a prolonged closure would have sweeping affects across the nation, ending iron ore shipments and shutting down Great Lakes steel production.

The DHS report states, “Depending on what time of year the closure occurred, approximately 75 percent of the U.S. integrated steel production would cease within 2–6 weeks after the closure of the Poe Lock. Approximately 80 percent of iron ore mining operations, and nearly 100 percent of the North American appliances, automobile, construction equipment, farm equipment, mining equipment, and railcar production would shut down.”

Beginning slowly, but escalating rapidly, the stress in the iron mining, integrated steel production, and manufacturing supply chains would result in the economy entering a severe recession. Potentially 11 million people in the U.S. could become unemployed due to production cuts and millions more in Mexico and Canada.

According to the DHS, “There are no plans or solutions that could mitigate the damage to the manufacturing industries dependent on this supply chain.”

In his letter to Congressional members, Governor Snyder wrote, “These sobering statistics demonstrate the need for the Federal Government to fully fund construction authorized by Congress 30 years ago. Not only will the new lock make waterway traffic and shipping more reliable, but the construction project is expected to generate 15,000 construction jobs in the eastern U.P. [Upper Peninsula]”

The Homeland Security report stated that is critical to “focus on a plan to deal with a potential Poe Lock failure.”

Said the DHS, “As one industry expert put it, ‘the game plan needs to be in the book, because everyone will be scrambling.’”

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