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Column: Soo Locks essential to our defense

By Paul Mitchell

At the end of last month, President Donald Trump stood before a roaring crowd in Washington Township and promised that we, as a nation, were going to fix the Soo Locks. On the way to the event, Michigan Reps. Jack Bergman, John Moolenaar and I had explained to the president just how important this project was for our state and the nation. For us Michiganians, it was a welcome acknowledgment of something we have known for a long time; the Soo Locks are aging and there are no alternatives in place should they fail. Nearly all domestic iron ore — which is required for steel production, a substantial part of our economy and essential for national defense — travels through the Soo Locks.

The Canadian cutter Samuel Risley ties up in the Poe Lock in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

As the first Michigan member of the House Armed Services Committee in many years, I have been working to ensure the rest of Congress understands the critical role the Soo Locks play in our national defense and economy as a whole. If the Poe Lock were to close, the Department of Homeland Security has estimated the disruption would cause an almost complete shutdown of Great Lakes steel production, leading to massive interruptions in manufacturing, and costing nearly 11 million people their jobs.

That’s why I worked to include language in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which the House passed last Thursday. The language states:

“… a failure at the Soo Locks would have drastic impacts on national security, in that the United States iron mining-integrated steel production-manufacturing supply chain is dependent on the Soo Locks, and there is no redundancy. Indeed, such a failure would cripple steel production that is used for national defense priorities. Therefore, the committee urges the commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and all involved executive branch agencies to expedite necessary reviews, analysis and approvals in order to speed the required upgrades at the Soo Locks.”

The House of Representatives, for the first time, acknowledges the state of the Soo Locks as a serious national security concern, and formally pressures the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and involved agencies to begin a project authorized in 1986 — upgrading the Soo Locks.

However, this is just one success of the bill. After a year where training accidents claimed more lives than combat deaths, the NDAA restores readiness and training by increasing funding to support our troops at the levels requested by President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis. This bill also funds a 2.6 percent pay raise for active duty troops, the largest in nine years. The NDAA also includes strong funding for modernizing the A-10 Warthog fleet, including the 107th Fighter Squadron, which calls Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan’s 10th District home.

The passage of this bill in the House of Representatives is a huge win for United States’ defense, and I am proud that my first action on the House Armed Services Committee was reaffirming the national security importance of the Soo Locks. I will continue working with my colleagues to hold the administration to its word and expedite essential improvements to the Soo Locks.

Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, represents Michigan’s 10th Congressional district and serves on the House Armed Services Committee.