Army Corps puts $479M in aid toward construction of new Soo Lock

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will put $479 million over five years toward construction of the long-delayed new Soo Lock as part of the funding it is  receiving from the bipartisan infrastructure package, the White House said Wednesday. 

The money should be enough for the Army Corps to complete the $1.5 billion project at the shipping lock complex on the St. Mary's River in the Upper Peninsula that connects Lake Superior to the lower Great Lakes.

Plans call for a new 1,200-foot-long lock to mirror the 49-year-old Poe lock, which is the only one of the four shipping locks that can handle the largest freighters that carry most of the cargo through the corridor. Army Corps officials have said they aim to finish the project by 2030

The freighter Presque Isle heads towards the Soo Locks behind the Museum Ship Valley Camp in Sault Ste. Marie, August 30, 2021.

A new lock would provide redundancy, so cargo could keep moving in the case of an unexpected outage of the Poe. The project, first authorized by Congress in 1986, was reauthorized in 2018.

"After a hard-fought effort, we finally have full funding of the Corp’s budget to finish building the new lock at the Soo Locks," Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said in a statement.

"In Michigan, we know how vital the locks are to our economy and our national defense. We also know that we are on borrowed time until something happens that shuts them down."

As part of the civil works plan released Wednesday, the Army Corps is also setting aside $37.3 million for maintenance at the lock complex. Roughly 80 million tons of cargo estimated at a value of nearly $6 billion traverse the Soo Locks every year.

The Army Corps is also devoting nearly $226 million toward a long-studied waterway project that engineers and lawmakers hope will halt the progress of Asian carp toward the Great Lakes. 

That funding is intended to complete engineering and design and start construction on the project to fortify the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Illinois, which the Army Corps has identified as a choke point to halt the spread of the invasive carp species.

"This is an historic step forward for this critically needed project to add a chain of smart technologies to the waterway that will stop invasive carp from reaching Lake Michigan," said Molly Flanagan, chief operating officer and vice president of programs at the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

The plans for Brandon Road include an engineered channel fitted with devices such as loudspeakers, electric shocks, a flushing lock and air bubble curtains at the site between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, which the destructive carp have overrun. 

The White House announced the funding Wednesday for the Great Lakes projects among $14 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure bill for fiscal year 2022, covering more than 500 projects across 52 states and territories.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, applauded the awarding of $742 million for both infrastructure projects.

“The critical role that Great Lakes waterways play in sustaining and advancing America’s economic vitality cannot be overstated,” said Kaptur, an Ohio Democrat.

“The revitalization of the Soo Locks will strengthen America’s commercial shipping capabilities, and support good-paying jobs throughout the Industrial Heartland," she added in a statement. "By investing in innovative new solutions at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, we will finally be able to protect the Great Lakes freshwater kingdom from the economic and ecological devastation wrought by invasive species."

Congress passed the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package last year, which President Joe Biden signed in November.