Great Lakes Commission supports Soo Locks Modernization Act

The Great Lakes Commission (GLC) is supporting bipartisan legislation that authorizes funding to upgrade the Soo Locks, a critical component of the Great Lakes commercial navigation system that supports 227,000 jobs and generates $34 billion in business revenue annually. The Soo Locks Modernization Act (S. 1308/H.R. 2806) would authorize funding to build a new lock big enough to handle the largest Great Lakes ships.

Currently there are only two operational locks at the Soo Locks complex—the Poe and MacArthur—and only the Poe Lock is large enough to handle 85 percent of the cargo that passes through the Locks, including nearly all of the iron ore needed for U.S. steel production.

“The Soo Locks handle more than 80 million tons of cargo every year and an unscheduled closure would devastate our economy,” said John Linc Stine, Vice-Chair of the GLC and Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. “The Department of Homeland Security has projected that a six-month, unplanned closure of the Poe Lock alone would result in a nightmare scenario for our country—a severe recession with 11 million Americans unemployed and more than $1.1 trillion decrease in national GDP. Ensuring the security and reliability of the Soo Locks is a top priority for the Great Lakes Commission, and that’s why we sent a letter to Congress supporting this important legislation.”

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN-8), a longtime advocate for the Soo Locks and a Cosponsor of the legislation, joined the GLC at a recent news conference, as did the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, representatives from Wisconsin’s Office of Great Waters, the Lake Carriers’ Association and the Canadian shipping company Fednav.

“Minnesota industries send and receive billions of dollars’ worth of products from Duluth through the locks into the lower four Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway every year, but right now only the Poe Lock can accommodate the 1,000-foot lakers that carry Iron Range taconite,” said Rep. Nolan. “It’s critical to the security of our state, regional and national economies that we build a new Poe-sized lock at the Soo Locks.”

“The Department of Homeland Security has correctly described the Soo Locks as the ‘the Achilles heel of the North American industrial economy,’” he added.

Lake Carriers’ Association (LCA), which represents the 13 American companies operating 49 U.S.-flag vessels on the Great Lakes, also expressed their support for the legislation at the news conference.

“In 2016, our members moved 47 million tons through the Soo Locks and 96 percent went through the only large lock, the Poe,” said Thomas Rayburn, Director of Environmental and Regulatory Affairs for LCA. “In 2015, we had a chilling preview of what could happen when the World War II-era MacArthur Lock closed for emergency mechanical repairs for 19 days and 78 vessels carrying 1.9 million tons of cargo were severely delayed. A six-month closure of the Poe Lock is projected to be worse than the ‘Great Recession.’ Building the new large lock adds redundancy, security, and resiliency to the economy: the project is shovel ready and would, over a decade, generate 1.5 million man hours for construction workers.”

There have been no comprehensive improvements to the Soo Locks facility in nearly 50 years. A recent Treasury Department report identified a new Soo Lock as one of 40 infrastructure projects of major economic significance for the nation and projected a net economic benefit of up to $1.7 billion if it was constructed.

Maritime Editorial