MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. (AP) — Members of Michigan’s congressional delegation vowed Thursday to secure long-sought funding to build a second large lock at Sault Ste. Marie, warning that a prolonged shutdown of an existing lock would cripple the U.S. economy.
The Soo Locks allow for commercial ships to traverse the Great Lakes but have not seen a comprehensive improvement in more than 50 years, said Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. She and other members announced bipartisan legislation at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, a day before they and Gov. Rick Snyder planned to tour the locks. Seven members of the 16-member Michigan delegation were present, including four Democrats and three Republicans.
“We’re very concerned that we are on borrowed time for something to happen that would close down particularly the Poe lock,” Stabenow said at the Grand Hotel, noting only that lock can accommodate 70 percent of the cargo that passes through, often on 1,000-foot-long ships.
In 1986, Congress authorized construction of a new lock on the site of two smaller unused locks. But funding, which could approach $1 billion, has never come through.
A closure of the Poe lock would stop 75 percent of Great Lakes steel production and nearly all North American production of appliances, automobiles, railcars and construction, farming and mining equipment, Stabenow said.
Rep. Jack Bergman, of Watersmeet in the Upper Peninsula, said modernizing the locks would “reflect our country’s ability to actually prioritize long-term projects, get them done so that our economy and our safety and security are not compromised or diminished.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a new cost-benefit study, which could be released by year’s end. Delegation members such as Democratic Sen. Gary Peters faulted a past study for erroneously assuming that iron ore could be transported instead by rail in the event of a lock shutdown. He said steel mills are not designed to take the materials off a railcar.
Republican Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph and Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint Township said the delegation has worked together before to ban plastic microbeads used in soaps and other personal-care products and to secure funding for Flint in the wake of the city’s drinking water crisis.
“We’re going to deliver,” Upton said. “A year from now, when we’re on this porch again, we’re going to be talking about the passage of this bill.”