A long-term project that has been in the discussion and planning stages for years took a big step in November when funding was authorized for advancing the work in the New Year. The project has put Michigan, and particularly the Upper Peninsula, in the spotlight.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported the “New Soo Lock” project will receive $32,388,000 in fiscal year 2019 for the work plan to advance. The funds were appropriated for the new lock at Sault Ste. Marie. The funds will be used to initiate deepening the upstream approach channel, and to complete design and allow construction of the upstream channel deepening to commence.

Lt. Col. Greg Turner, district engineer for the corps of engineers, said the appropriation of funding demonstrates the federal government’s commitment to provide resiliency in the great lakes navigation system. He called the funding “fantastic news for the Great Lakes and our nation.”

The next opportunity for funding to complete construction of the upstream channel deepening and continue the design of the upstream approach walls and new lock chamber is in President Trump’s budget. Contingent on efficient funding the new lock project is estimated to cost $1 billion and be completed in seven years.

The famous Soo Locks are situated on the St. Mary’s River at Sault Ste. Marie and allow vessels to transit the 21-foot elevation change at the St. Mary’s Falls canal. The new lock would construct a second poe-sized lock — 110 Feet-by-1,200-feet — on the site of the existing Davis and Sabin locks.

The Soo Locks are nationally critical infrastructure and the reliability of this critical mode in the great lakes navigation system is essential to U.S. manufacturing and national security.

People may not realize that most of the domestic minded iron ore is shipped through the Soo Locks. The locks are aging and if they fail the nations steel industry, auto industry and other major manufacturing will come to a halt. These industries are vital to national security.

During world war II, an army base was located on the present-day site of Lake Superior State University, and a sizable coast guard fleet was stationed nearby to help protect the Soo Locks at a time when Detroit was regarded as a hub for manufacturing a variety of components for the armed forces. Ore ships were active on the Great Lakes for supplying a wide range of other cities in Michigan than just Detroit. The ore was shipped to a multitude of factories outside of Michigan. 

Thousands of area residents have visited the fascinating locks over the years to see them in operation. The locks are one of Michigan’s top tourist attractions. 

It’s good to see the “New Soo Lock” project moving forward after being in the planning stages for many years. Given the unrest that has splintered the political climate in Washington where federal decisions are made, we’re hoping this Great Lakes Project will continue on course.