Sen. Peters warns of potential economic catastrophe at Soo Locks

May 31, 2016

The Great Lakes freighter Tim S. Dool passes through the Poe Lock at Sault Ste. Marie in May 2016.
Credit David Cassleman

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters is pushing a federal agency to speed up a report that could lead to a new lock built at Sault Ste. Marie.

A 2015 analysis from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warns of a scenario where a six month closure at the largest lock at the Soo, Poe Lock, leads to the nation’s automobile industry grinding to a halt. That could send the economy spiraling into a deep recession.

“It is a critical piece of infrastructure not just for Michigan but for the whole country,” U.S. Sen. Gary Peters says in an interview with IPR News Radio. Sen. Peters along with Sen. Debbie Stabenow have been advocating for a new lock at the Soo.

The largest freighters on the Great Lakes have a single option to make it through the rapids separating Lake Superior and Lake Huron: a 1,200-foot lock at Sault Ste. Marie called the Poe Lock. Without the Poe, millions of tons of iron ore and coal would be stuck.

“There needs to be redundancy [at the locks],” Peters says. There is not enough rail capacity to make up for a Poe Lock closure, Peters says.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — which operates the locks — has recently begun a cost-benefit analysis of a new lock. That report is critical to getting a new lock built because a high rating would move the project up the priority list at the Army Corps. However the analysis won’t be ready until the beginning of 2018, the Army Corps says.

“That’s not acceptable,” Peters says. “We think we can accelerate that [timeline].”