Soo Lock Closure Shows Need for Second Large Lock, Great Lakes Carriers Say

Soo Locks. Photo: U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers
Soo Locks. Photo: U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers

 

U.S.-flag Great Lake carriers are using a recent 20-day closer of a lock at the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to highlight the need for a second lock large enough to accommodate the largest ships servicing the Great Lakes region.

According to the Lake Carriers’ Association, representing the 16 American companies that operate 56 U.S.-flag vessels on the Great Lakes, the MacArthur Lock was closed from July 29th until August 17 due to a misalignment of the miter gates that forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take the Lock out of service.

The 20-day closure ended up costing Great Lakes vessel operators nearly $250,000 and impacted a total of 77 voyages, causing the delay of 1.8 million tons of cargo, according to the Lake Carriers’ Association.

The MacArthur Lock is one of four locks connecting Lake Superior and Lake Huron at the Soo Locks. While the MacArthur lock is large enough to handle smaller ocean-going vessels, the Poe Lock is the only one one of the Soo Locks that is big enough to handle the largest lake freighters of 1,000 feet or more.

“The lengthy failure of the MacArthur Lock adds more urgency to our efforts to build a second Poe-sized lock,” said James H.I. Weakley, president of Lake Carriers’ Association. “The MacArthur Lock is 72 years old and the Poe Lock is 46 years old. We must renew this vital infrastructure. Most of the iron ore that feeds our steel mills transits the Soo Locks. Likewise for the low-sulfur coal that generates electricity at many Great Lakes powerplants. Without shipping through the Soo Locks, industrial America will be brought to its knees.”

According to the Lake Carriers’ Association, seventy percent of U.S.-flag carrying capacity on the Lakes is restricted to the Poe Lock by the length or beam of the vessel, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acknowledges the Soo Locks are the single point of failure for the Great Lakes Navigation System. Congress has even authorized building a second Poe-sized lock, but the project has not moved forward because a flawed study puts its benefit/cost ratio below 1.0, the Association said.

“Everyone knows the assumption that the railroads could absorb the 60 million tons of cargo the Poe Lock handles each year is off base,” added Weakley. “Furthermore, many steel mills lack rail access, so without Great Lakes shipping, that industry and others would all but cease to exist.”

Weakley stressed the solution is very simple. “A new, better-focused study must be conducted so this vital infrastructure project can move forward. At the behest of Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the Corps revisited the assumptions included in its original economic analysis of the project, and its findings should prompt a full re-evaluation of replacing the MacArthur Lock with a Poe-sized lock.”