Over 1,000 high-quality jobs could be shipping into Sault Ste. Marie with plans of a new Soo Lock coming closer and closer to fruition. Upwards of $32 million has been secured for the 2019 fiscal year to help design and start initial construction of the project, and with smooth sailing, the new lock could be funded as a part of the 2020 President’s Budget.
Earlier this fall $922 million was authorized by Congress to construct a new lock in the world famous system that will allow large lake freighters to traverse between Lakes Superior and Huron. Currently, the Poe Lock is the lone lock capable of handling the larger vessels that are crucial to the national and global economy. Construction could last roughly 7 to 10 years and bring a boom to the national economy.
“If you look at the impact total, that’s 1,120 jobs over eight years,” said US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Project Manager Maureen Mahoney. “We estimate at the peak of construction there will be 250 workers on site.”
The USACE estimated a residual effect of $559 million in labor income impacting the local economy over the course of construction. This takes into account workers spending money at local restaurants, stores, hotels and bringing their families with them to the area.
Since the 1980s there have been plans to build a “Super Lock” where the dormant Davis and Saban Locks lay. In addition, to bring jobs and the trickle-down effect of 1,000 employees, the new lock could help serve as blanket security in case anything happens that causes a closure to the Poe Lock during the Great Lakes navigation season between March 25 and January 15.
The United States Department of Homeland Security estimated in 2015 that a six-month closure to the Poe Lock during shipping season could temporarily reduce gross domestic product by $1.1 trillion and could result in the loss of over 10 million jobs in the US and up to 16 million across the continent. The main product freighters haul is taconite (a low-grade iron ore,” and there is no financially feasible way other than shipping to transfer the product across the country to steel mills and factories.
“If you look at the main commodities that come through, they’re bulk commodities,” explained Soo Locks area engineer Kevin Sprague. “If you get in a car that is made in the United States, it was made with iron ore that went through the locks. There’s no way around it.”
On Nov. 21, the USACE announced it would proceed with construction by deepening an upstream channel. The Corps received $32 million in the 2019 fiscal year for design and initial construction of the project.
“The funding that we’ve received in the fiscal year 2019 will allow us to compete for the design and partial construction upstream of the locks,” added Mahoney. “That’s the first step in the lock project.”
In a press release put on Nov. 21 regarding the $32 million, it was stated that the next opportunity for funding to continue working on the deepening of an upstream channel to accommodate the new lock would be in the 2020 President’s Budget.