Lakes Shocked No Stimulus Funds for New Soo Lock

TOLEDO, OH - The Great Lakes shipping industry is in a state of shock following the announcement that the second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan did not receive any Federal stimulus dollars.

Congress has strongly supported the project, authorizing the lock at full Federal expense in 2007, and approving tens of millions of dollars in Federal construction funding, including $17 million recently in the FY09 Appropriations Bill. However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been less supportive. The shovel-ready project could have created thousands of good-paying jobs almost overnight.

"It is incomprehensible that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not include the new Soo lock in projects that will be funded from its share of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ("ARRA”),” said Donald Cree, President of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, the largest coalition promoting waterborne commerce on the Great Lakes. "Construction of the lock would have jumpstarted the economy in Sault Ste. Marie and the surrounding area like no other undertaking. The jobs it would have created have been likened to opening an auto manufacturing plant in the area.”

Cree lamented this is not the first time the Lakes have been shortchanged. "We have a dredging crisis on the Great Lakes because we don’t get our fair share of Federal dollars,” said Cree, who is also National Vice President - Great Lakes for American Maritime Officers, a union representing officers on many U.S.–Flag Great Lakes vessels. "Now there's no money for a new lock at the Soo in the stimulus package. Someone in Washington has forgotten the Great Lakes region is the nation’s industrial heartland. The United States will not recover from this depression until the Great Lakes basin is working again.”

The locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan connect Lake Superior to the lower four Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway and routinely handle more than 80 million tons of cargo a year. At 40–plus million tons, iron ore for steel production is the primary cargo, but the locks also handle tens of millions of tons of clean-burning low-sulfur coal for Great Lakes power plants and funnel grain to overseas markets through the Seaway.

"The Corps has long termed the Soo Locks the single point of failure that could cripple Great Lakes shipping," said James H.I. Weakley, 1st Vice President of GLMTF and President of Lake Carriers’ Association, the trade association representing U.S.–Flag vessel operators on the Great Lakes. ”If the Poe Lock goes down for even a short period, American industries will not be able to receive the raw materials the nation needs to accomplish the job creation that is supposed to be the end result of the ARRA. Seventy percent of U.S.–Flag carrying capacity is restricted to the Poe Lock. If that lock is incapacitated, even more blast furnaces will go cold. Power plants will face coal shortages or have to resort to trains that burn more fuel and produce more emissions than ships. Make no mistake about it, this decision to deny the lock stimulus funds jeopardizes the nation’s economic well-being and threatens to put more greenhouses gasses into the environment.”

The Corps decision also contradicts a recent study it issued that found Great Lakes shipping a tremendous benefit to the nation and listed construction of a second Poe-sized lock among its priorities. "The Corps study determined Great Lakes shipping annually saves its customers $3.6 billion compared to the next least-costly mode of transportation,” said John D. Baker, 2nd Vice President of GLMTF and President Emeritus of the ILA’s Great Lakes District Council. "That study also declared the Poe Lock the ’Achilles Heel’ of the Great Lakes Navigation System. There’s no redundancy for the Poe Lock. The Corps had the chance to twin the Poe Lock and ensure the free flow of domestic and international cargos for decades to come. What possible justification is there for this decision?”

The Great Lakes maritime community pledged to keep fighting for Federal funds to build the second Poe-sized lock. "Congress, and the Great Lakes delegation in particular, knows how important this lock is to our region and our country,” said Patrick J. O’Hern, 3rd Vice President of GLMTF and Vice President and General Manager of Bay Shipbuilding Company, the largest shipbuilder on the Great Lakes. "Construction will create jobs for Americans and demand for American goods and raw materials. It’s a win for the region and a win for the country, a perfect use of stimulus funds. If we can’t get stimulus funds, then we will have to double our efforts with Congress to include the appropriation in the FY10 budget.”

Founded in 1992, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force promotes domestic and international shipping on the Great Lakes. It is the largest coalition to ever speak for the Great Lakes shipping community and draws its membership from both labor and management representing U.S.–Flag vessel operators, shipboard and longshore unions, port authorities, cargo shippers, terminal operators, shipyards and other Great Lakes interests. Its goals include restoring adequate funding for dredging of Great Lakes deep-draft ports and waterways, construction of a second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan; protecting the Jones Act and other U.S. maritime cabotage laws and regulations; maximizing the Lakes overseas trade; and opposing exports and increased diversions of Great Lakes water.

Glen G. Nekvasil
Secretary, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force