Construction of a Second Poe-Sized Lock at Sault St. Marie, Michigan

GOAL: Provide resiliency to the Great Lakes Navigation System with sufficient and efficient federal funding for the second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, reauthorized in America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, and complete construction of the $922 million project within seven years.

BACKGROUND: The Soo Locks connect Lake Superior to the lower four Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway, and international markets. The locks allow the shipment of iron ore from mines in Minnesota and Michigan, coal from western states, and grain from American and Canadian farms to end users in the United States, Canada and overseas as well as allow cargos to move up the system and directly into upper Midwest markets. Cargo movement through the Soo Locks can top 80 million tons per year.

So called “Poe Class vessels,” those dimensionally restricted to using only the large lack at the Soo, make up 70 percent of the U.S.-flag fleet that carry 96 percent of all American cargos. All “Seawaymax” vessels, those designed to maximize size allowed to transit the St. Lawrence Seaway, are Poe-restricted. The only other operating lock at the Soo, the 76-year old MacArthur, has lost its capability to serve as a functional backup should there be an outage of the Poe.

The economic impacts of the Poe Lock are national, binational, and international. The Department of Homeland Security estimated that a 6-month shutdown of the Poe, a real possibility for the 50-year old lock, would result in 11 million Americans unemployed from Maine to California. The Corps’ calculated that a 30-day shutdown would cost the U.S. economy $160 million. A study by the transportation economics firm, Martin and Associates, calculated the annual value of cargo moved through the locks at $6 billion and that over 123,000 jobs are directly tied to fully operational locks at the Soo.

The U.S. Army Corps’ of Engineers, following completion of their Economic Reevaluation Report, found a new lock of comparable size to the existing Poe Lock providing system resiliency is economically critical to the nation. Their 2019 Workplan includes $32 million to restart the stalled construction. The State of Michigan contributed $52 million in matching funds for the new lock. Construction of the new lock is estimated by the Corps’ to create 1,125 regional jobs, produce $1.82 billion in business revenue, and generate additional cargos for the U.S.-flag fleet to supply the 735,000 tons of domestic limestone, 35,000 tons of domestic cement, and 20,000 tons of domestic steel that the project will need.

The need for a second Poe-sized lock becomes more critical each passing day. Expeditiously funding the construction of the new lock is critical to commercial maritime transportation whose cargos supply the industrial base of America that supports everything from the manufacturing of cars to washing machines, energy production, and America’s infrastructure.