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Stabenow, Peters want Soo Locks study completed sooner

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters are stepping up pressure on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up a cost-benefit study of building an additional passageway for Great Lakes freighters at the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie.

The two senators sent the Army Corps of Engineers a letter Thursday requesting that a $1.35 million analysis of replacing the Davis and Sabin locks be completed “as quickly as possible,” citing the “critical importance” of the Soo Locks to commerce for Michigan and the country as a whole.

“The recent meetings we have both held at the Locks with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers highlighted the profound harm that an outage would have on the economy and security of Michigan, the Great Lakes region, and the entire nation,” Stabenow and Peters wrote in a letter to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army.

An Army spokesman recently told The Detroit News the corps needs at least two years to complete the study.

“We’re trying to accelerate that,” Peters told The News on Thursday. “It’s clear that every day that goes by we just increase the risk that something could happen to the locks.”

Last summer, the 73-year-old MacArthur Lock was closed for 19 days to repair a broken gate in the middle of the shipping season. The MacArthur Lock, built during World War II, is only long and wide enough for small tugboats, the popular lock-touring boats and recreational boats to pass through.

For several years, Michigan’s congressional delegation has been seeking more than $500 million needed to build a new 1,200-foot-long lock to mirror the Poe Lock, which handles the largest freighters carrying iron ore.

The 48-year-old Poe Lock handles 70 percent of the freight that flows through the locks during the 10-month shipping season.

The Army Corps of Engineers has long planned to tear out the decommissioned Sabin Lock and rarely used Davis Lock in the north channel of the Soo Locks and build a new lock to match the length and width of the Poe Lock. The Sabin and Davis locks were built in 1919 and 1918, respectively.

But securing funding from Congress for the project has proved difficult, despite heavy lobbying from the shipping industry and elected officials from Great Lakes states.

A recent U.S. Department of Homeland Security study concluded that a long-term shutdown of the Poe Lock could trigger a national economic recession, effectively crippling the steel business by preventing ore-hauling freighters from passing through the St. Mary’s River that connects Lake Superior to Lake Huron.

Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, cited the Homeland Security report in their letter to the Army Corps of Engineers.

“The disruption of shipping from even a short-term closure of the Poe Lock would devastate the automobile, mining, appliance, and other manufacturing industries in the Great Lakes region and across North America,” the senators wrote.

The Army Corps of Engineers recently gave Peters an extensive tour of the Soo Locks, going deep underground into what he called “the bowels” of the facility to get a first-hand look at the aging infrastructure.

One glaring aspect of the facility that stood out to Michigan’s junior senator is that the water pumps that fill and drain the locks date back to the World War I.

“We can’t keep living off of the infrastructure investment made by our grandparents,” said Peters, 57. “It’s time we put money into it.”


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Twitter: @ChadLivengood