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Detroit Free Press: A super-sized Soo Lock? Study to decide

Report will look at cost-benefit ratio of building a new super-size shipping lock at Sault Ste. Marie

WASHINGTON — Michgan's U.S. senators said Monday night that the Army Corps of Engineers and the Office of Management and Budget has agreed to move $1.35 million into a cost-benefit study which could potentially lead to a new super-size shipping lock being built in Sault Ste. Marie someday.

For more than a year, members of Michigan’s congressional delegation have been urging the Corps to undertake a new study of the economic rationale for building a second lock the size of the existing Poe Lock at the key chokepoint between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes on the Upper Peninsula.

Of the two locks operational at the Soo Locks, the 47-year-old Poe is the only one large enough to handle the 1,000-foot freighters which move the bulk of cargo through the locks. Up to 70% of the freight being moved through the locks, much of it iron ore moving from mines in the Upper Midwest to steel mills elsewhere, are transported through the Poe Lock.

As the Free Press reported in August, a 30-day shutdown of the Poe could lead to economic losses in the neighborhood of $160 million and have far-reaching effects, especially on the auto industry and other manufacturers.

An earlier economic analysis, however, questioned the need for a second Poe-sized lock, which was authorized by Congress to be built some 30 years ago but never adequately funded. That earlier analysis suggested rail lines or trucks could move iron ore to steel mills in the event of a shutdown, a contention that closer scrutiny in recent years showed to be untrue because there aren’t enough train cars or trucks available to do the work and the needed infrastructure hasn't been built.

“The Soo Locks are the gateway for Great Lakes freighters,” said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. “This support will allow the Army Corps to start the process of making upgrades and building a replacement lock. A failure of the aging locks causing even a temporary outage could cost our economy millions of dollars.”

"This funding will help the Army Corps of Engineers make critical upgrades," said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, also D-Mich., who made the announcement with Stabenow and noted that the Soo Locks are among the busiest in the nation.