Snyder, Ontario leader form plan to boost trade

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is seen, Wednesday June 15, 2016, with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne during a press conference at Cadillac Place in Detroit.

Detroit — Gov. Rick Snyder and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne want to boost trade in the Great Lakes by building a second large lock in Sault Ste. Marie and dredging a key river that drains Lake Superior.

Building the lock is the main priority in the Michigan-Ontario maritime strategy. Other priorities include dredging the St. Marys River to maintain its authorized depth of 27 feet and expediting “the movement of goods and people across the U.S.-Canada border by streamlining the customs clearance process for cruise passengers and maritime cargo.”

“The single largest thing that would be transformational ... would be the second lock,” said Snyder, who is also chairman of the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers. “(It would reduce) economic risk to both our countries, let alone our region. Because that is a real concern.”

But it remains unclear where the money will come from for the second lock — envisioned as being built in the foot print of two old locks that are rarely used or no longer usable.

Michigan’s congressional delegation continues to lobby colleagues for the 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. There also is the 800-foot-long MacArthur Lock, which handles small tugboats, the popular lock-touring boats and recreational boats.

The additional lock and dredging on the St. Marys River are “absolutely critical” for the Michigan shipping industry, said Glen Nekvasil, vice president of the Lake Carriers Association that represents 14 companies and 56 vessels that carry cargo on the Great Lakes to the Detroit area steel mills and Michigan power plants.

The St. Marys River is the controlling point for most of the cargo that moves on the Great Lakes, he said. About 70 percent of the cargo moved across the lakes also goes through the Poe Lock, he said.

If the river is not properly dredged or the Poe Lock were closed — as happened for 19 days last summer with the smaller MacArthur Lock — “the U.S. flag fleet would have to go to anchor,” Nekvasil said.

David Naftzger, CEO of the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers, said the maritime strategy also calls for studying whether to add two more feet of depth to the St. Marys River.

If the St. Marys were dredged to 29 feet, Nekvasil said his organization’s ships could carry about 6,500 additional tons of cargo on the river.

Naftzger said other dredging urged in the strategy will target approaches to harbors and ports.

Michigan delegation members such as U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, have said they are making progress but much work remains to be done to get federal aid for the lock.

Last fall, President Barack Obama’s administration authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a $1.35 million cost-benefit study of an additional shipping lock that would take more than two years to complete. Almost a month ago, Michigan’s Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters sent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers a letter requesting they speed up a cost-benefit study of building an additional passageway for Great Lakes freighters at the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie.

“The Soo Locks are a critical part of commerce for Michigan and our entire country,” said Peters of Bloomfield Township in a statement sent to The Detroit News. “A recent report from the Department of Homeland Security found that an outage in the Poe Lock could cause up to $160 million in economic losses in just 30 days, and cause ripple effects throughout our nation’s economy. ...

“I will continue working with my colleagues in Congress to upgrade the Soo Locks so they can keep driving economic growth for our state and our region.”

The economic output of the maritime industry in the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway is about $30 billion annually for both countries and accounts for 220,000 jobs.

The strategy to double maritime trade was developed at the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers, Snyder said. It is “the first-ever regional strategy to jump-start the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence maritime transportation system,” according to a release from the conference.

Wynne said the new maritime strategy is a starting point for discussion with the Canadian federal government on what infrastructure investments are needed.

The strategy, she said, will ensure that the U.S.-Canadian waterways are even less of a barrier to trade and transit than the land borders.

The $74 billion in trade between Ontario and Michigan in 2015 “demonstrates how ... important it is that we find even more ways to work together,” Wynne said.

Officials are looking at preclearance options for travel between the countries, she said.

Snyder and Wynne gave updates on other Michigan-Canada-related issues:

■Snyder said he and Wynne are also working on controlling the algae blooms in the western Lake Erie basin and battle invasive species in the lakes and rivers.

■Of the $2.1-billion Gordie Howe International Bridge that will connect the U.S. and Canada, Snyder repeated that Canada and Michigan are still aiming for a 2020 opening date.

“This is a huge project,” he said. “This process is moving along.”

Wynne said Ontario is “absolutely committed” to moving forward with plans for the bridge, which will help boost trade between the countries.

ithibodeau@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2359

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau