Members of Michigan’s Congressional delegation gathered on the porch of the Grand Hotel Thursday to announce plans to introduce legislation next week to authorize the renovation and expansion of the Soo Locks.
The bill will be introduced in the house by First District Republican Congressman Jack Bergman, with bi-partisan support by members of the Michigan delegation as co-sponsors.
A report from the Department of Homeland Security warned that a failure of the locks could lead to dire economic consequences because of the inability to get iron ore to steel mills as well as shipping grain and other goods from Lake Superior to ports in the Midwest and around the world. Senator Debbie Stabenow warned that failure of the last working lock could lead to an immediate increase in Michigan’s unemployment rate, a potential shutdown of car manufacturing in the U.S., and could plunge the entire country into a recession.
Members of the delegation will be touring the locks on Friday. Senator Gary Peters told reporters that on his last visit to the locks, the Army Corps of Engineers were working to repair nearly 100-year old pumps that move water to raise and lower ships through the locks. “It’s amazing the talent in the Corps to keep these 100 year old pumps operating,” Peters said, “but they can’t keep them going forever.” Congressman Bergman said the locks are stressed every time a ship moves through; as the ships use their bow thrusters to leave the lock, rock and bottom material is stirred up and causes damage.
Stabenow said the bill seeks to authorize the estimated $1 billion dollar project to get ahead of a report, due from the Army Corps of Engineers before the end of the year, on the economic impact of repairing and expanding the locks. Once the project is authorized, then the delegation will seek funding.
It’s not the first time the locks have come before Congress. Stabenow says the project has actually been authorized on several different occasions since the 1980’s – but no money has ever been appropriated to get the work done.