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Army Corps gets $1.35M to study upgrade for Soo Locks

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The Obama administration has approved $1.35 million in funding that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requested for a cost-benefit study of an additional shipping lock on the river that connects Lakes Huron and Superior.

Only one of the four aging locks Sault Ste. Marie is large enough to handle ships that carry 70 percent of the cargo, and members of Michigan’s congressional delegation have pushed to replace two outdated locks with a new one capable of handling the largest freighters.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow, of Lansing, and Gary Peters, of Bloomfield Township, said Monday the administration has committed $1.35 million to review upgrades to replace the Davis and Sabin Locks, which are nearly 100 years old and no longer in use. The Soo Locks transport roughly 80 million tons of raw goods and materials a year.

The approved study follows mechanical problems in August that shut one of the two main locks at Sault Ste. Marie capable of handling commercial ships on the Great Lakes. It was closed for two-and-a-half weeks during the important shipping season.

The problem involved a set of gates that would not close properly. Repair work required the lock to be emptied of water.

In June, the senators wrote to the Office of Management and Budget Director urging approval for the Army Corps’ funding request for the locks project.

“This support will allow the Army Corps to start the process of making upgrades and building a replacement lock,” Stabenow said in a statement. “A failure of the aging locks causing even a temporary outage could cost our economy millions of dollars — a cost we cannot afford.”

Having another 1,200-foot-long lock — which would be built on the site of the existing Davis and Sabin locks — would allow for better maintenance of both locks and keep shipping traffic moving if the 1,200-foot-long Poe lock needs repairs.

Peters noted that the Soo Locks are the busiest in the United States, transporting nearly 80 million tons of goods and raw materials a year. “I’m proud to work with Sen. Stabenow and the administration to ensure the Soo Locks stay open and continue to drive commerce in our state and our region,” he said.

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