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Congress agrees to fund new Soo lock

David Cassleman
The freighter Tim S. Dool sits in the Poe Lock at Sault Ste. Marie in May 2016.

The Soo is one step closer to getting a new lock. The Senate authorized nearly $922.4 million in funding for the project Wednesday.

 The house had already approved it as part of a larger water resources act. The bipartisan bill heads to the president’s desk next.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters says, if approved, Congress would still have to agree to appropriate the money.

"But this is a significant, meaningful step forward," says Peters.

Millions of tons of iron ore and coal pass through Poe Lock each year on 1,000 foot ships. The Poe is the only lock at the Soo that can raise and lower ships that big, and Peters says it's a critical piece of infrastructure.

"If something were to happen to that lock, it would have a major economic impact. Not just on Michigan and the Midwest but the whole country," says Peters.

That’s according to a Army Corps of Engineers study. A 2015 U.S. Department of Homeland Security Study found that if the Poe Lock were broken for six months, it would cause an economic recession.

A bill to fund the new lock was introduced by Michigan Republicans and Democrats, including Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Rep. Jack Bergman and Peters.

"In Michigan, we know how vital the locks are to our economy and our national defense," Stabenow said in a press release Wednesday. "We also know that we are on borowed time until something happens that shuts them down. This is a significant win."

When the bill was introduced in 2017, Bergman said in a press release the locks were an important economic driver.

"We've reached the point where modernization is absolutely critical to prevent unscheduled interruptions in operation and a nationwide economic disaster," he said.


Morgan Springer is a contributing editor and producer at Interlochen Public Radio. She previously worked for the New England News Collaborative as the host/producer of NEXT, the weekly show which aired on six public radio station in the region.