SAULT STE MARIE – Along the St. Mary’s River, the Soo Locks, often noted as the “Lynchpin of the Great Lakes”, have been the only route for freighters moving ore and raw material from mines on Lake Superior to the refineries of the Lower Great Lakes. A century has passed since the construction of the earliest Davis and Sabin Locks, which now sit empty and abandoned on the North Channel. The two active locks, the MacArthur and Poe Locks, were built in the 1930s and 1960s respectively, and of the two, only the Poe Lock is capable of accommodating the size and depth requirements for modern day freighters.
As such, the Poe Lock is as accurately described, a Lynchpin. If the Poe Lock were to ever fail and be out of service for an extended period, major ramifications for the Great Lakes and Rustbelt economy would follow. A report from Homeland Security back in 2016 estimated that a 6 month closure of the Poe Lock could singlehandedly plunge the region, if not the nation, into a recession, and cost over 10 million jobs. This is because the material that moves through the channels leads to the steel that runs the Automotive and Appliance Industries, builds the infrastructure of the region, and is sent out to farther reaches of the country. The implications of that shortage would have great effects for the Canadian Steel Industry as well, who also rely on major imports of steel from the Upper Great Lakes.
This summer, the first phase of the so-called Soo Lock ‘Mega-Project” is all but done; the deepening of the North Channel. The second phase, to rebuild the approach walls into the Locks, is ongoing and expecting completion in 2024. This past month, a contract was awarded to the Kokosing Alberici Traylor company of Ohio to begin work on Phase Three, the main event. The third Soo Lock.
The project which has been in the cards since the 2016 Homeland Security Report, will use the footprint of the Davis and Sabin Locks to build a third Soo Lock, one that will match the capabilities of the Poe to allow the modern 1,000 foot freighter to pass through. The project is expected to be completed somewhere around 2030, all depending on the many uncontrollable obstacles the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the new Integrated Project Office (a temporary office whose purpose is to oversee Soo Lock construction) will have to face. Weather, inflation, labor and supply shortages, as well as funding setbacks will all have an effect on how long the project will take place.
Fortunately, progress is being made a good pace so far, the project to deepen the North Channel leading into New Lock is all but done, and the project to rebuild the approach walls of the North Channel is also going well, according to Supervisory Civil Engineer Rachel Miller. Miller also explained the main project, whose contract was just awarded to Kokosing Alberici Traylor of Westerville, Ohio, will be done. “The new lock will be deeper, and wider than the Davis and Sabin. It will be in the footprint of what is currently the Sabin Lock, which is decommissioned, and the Davis Lock will be filled in. So, where we have two operational locks and two decommissioned locks, there will be three operational locks.”
For more information on the project, you can visit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering website, or contact the Sault Ste. Marie Field Office.