Snyder wants feds to ‘fully fund’ new Soo Lock

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is calling on the federal government to “fully fund” a new $500 million shipping lock at the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie to avert a “cascading collapse of the U.S. economy.”

In a letter sent Tuesday to Michigan’s 16-member congressional delegation, the Republican governor urged the federal government to move quickly to replace two dormant shipping lanes “with a newer, larger single lock, which will help to address ongoing maintenance, redundancy and capacity issues.”

Snyder cited a 2015 U.S. Department of Homeland Security report that warned the closure of the 1,200-foot-long Poe Lock — which handles large freighters carrying iron ore —could grind North American automobile production to a halt.

The Soo Locks connecting Lake Superior to Lake Huron along the St. Mary’s River have two functional locks. But only the 48-year-old Poe Lock can handle large Great Lakes freighters.

The 73-year-old MacArthur Lock, which was closed for 19 days due to unexpected repairs, is only big enough to handle small tugboats, the popular lock-touring boats and recreational boats passing through.

Other industries ranging from the Upper Peninsula’s mining industry to appliance and rail car manufacturing could be impacted by a closure of the Poe Lock, Snyder said.

“A six-month disruption in the Soo Lock could cause an increase of 18 to 22 percent unemployment in the Great Lakes region, leaving 4 million people out of work,” Snyder wrote. “These sobering statistics demonstrate the need for the federal government to fully fund construction authorized by Congress 30 years ago.”

Congress first authorized construction of a new lock in 1986, Snyder said, but “the work still languishes due to a lack of appropriated funds.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said it would cost at least $500 million to remove the World War I-era Sabin and Davis locks and build a new lock at the facility, which handles about 4,000 ships annually hauling iron ore, grain, coal and other raw materials.

Snyder said construction of a new lock that matches the Poe Lock in length and width could create 15,000 construction jobs in the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

“The longer we delay on preemptive measures to mitigate lock closures, the more real a complete shutdown of Great Lakes steel production becomes,” Snyder warned.

Snyder’s letter to Michigan’s congressional delegation comes less than two months after U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters stepped up pressure on the Army Corps of Engineers to complete a cost-benefit study of building an additional passageway at the Soo Locks.

The Army Corps has said it needs at least two years to complete the study.

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood