Column: It’s time for a new Soo Lock

Jack Bergman and John Moolenaar

American iron ore powers our nation’s economy. It starts in mines in the Upper Midwest and travels across Lake Superior on thousand-foot freighters, passing through the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, where the ships are lowered into Lake Huron. The ore then heads south, where it is used in industries — including agriculture, appliances, automobiles, construction and infrastructure — that provide millions of good-paying jobs and make products enjoyed by all Americans.

All these uses for iron ore mean that the Soo Locks are critical to the economy and national security of the United States. Unfortunately, the locks have been neglected, and only extraordinary maintenance has prevented an operating disruption that would be devastating for the American economy.

A 2015 report from the Department of Homeland Security describes what would happen if such a disruption were to occur. Iron ore would be stranded in the Upper Midwest, with no realistic and viable alternative to make it to steel mills and factories.

The consequences would cascade across the country. The national unemployment rate would rise to over 11 percent, which would be even higher than it was during the last national recession. States with steel mills and auto suppliers would be acutely hurt, and even outside of the Midwest, there would be massive job losses, with both California and Texas losing more than 500,000 jobs. To prevent this terrible scenario from occurring, the United States needs to ensure the Locks will continue to function for decades to come and the time to act is now.

The cost of a new lock has significantly increased in the more than 30 years since it was proposed. What was then a $227 million estimate is now expected to start at $800 million and possibly rise to over $1 billion. To prevent the cost from rising again, funding for construction of a new lock should come from this Congress.

In Congress, there is bipartisan support for new investment in our country’s infrastructure, but all those projects will need the iron ore that goes through the Soo Locks and the American steel that comes from it. Funding a new Soo lock is a necessary down payment to ensure these projects happen.

The Soo Locks are a critical passage for the American economy, and a new lock is directly tied to its future prosperity. The materials needed to build your next car, refrigerator, and local infrastructure project will come through the locks. We hope our colleagues in Congress will join us in supporting construction of a new lock at the Soo.

Rep. Jack Bergman represents Michigan’s 1st Congressional district and Rep. John Moolenaar represents its 4th district.