Proposed new Soo Lock passes critical financial test

Proposed new Soo Lock passes critical financial test
July 5, 2018 Gary Wilson
Edison_Sault_power_plant_and_Soo_Locks_2010

“80 percent” probability of completion after a decade-long impasse

Michigan and the Great Lakes region’s hopes for a new Soo Lock got a major boost this week as the Army Corps of Engineers said it has completed a new economic validation study that could allow construction of a new lock to go forward.

Work could be completed by 2030, assuming funding is approved in the 2020 budget and is continuous, spokesperson Lynn Rose from the Army Corps’ Detroit office told Great Lakes Now.

For construction to proceed, a new lock must demonstrate a benefit cost ratio above a minimum threshold to be eligible for federal funding.

The Army Corps’ study shows that the project exceeds that minimum by a wide margin. But nothing is guaranteed, as it still must compete with other projects also seeking federal funding.

“Now that we have completed the economic validation study we look forward to the next steps to get a new lock built at the Soo,” Army Corps Lt. Colonel Dennis Sugrue said in a press release.

The project is expected to cost approaching $1 billion.

James Weakley told Great Lakes Now that a previous study to justify the lock was flawed which cost the region a decade in which the new lock could have been completed by now.

But he said the proposed timing “is reasonable” and the process is now ”on the right track.” He said “construction can begin as soon as funds are available” and with some luck, work could begin in 2019. Weakley is President of the Lake Carriers Association, a Cleveland-based trade group.

Weakley said the chances of the lock going forward are “very good.” He gave the project an “80 percent probability of being completed.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder along with the Michigan congressional delegation have been making a renewed push for the lock since early 2017 when President Trump said he would be emphasizing infrastructure improvements.

At the recent Mackinac Policy Conference Snyder pledged $50 million to help get the project started.

“Upgrading the Soo Locks is essential to our economy, not just in Michigan but across the entire nation,” Snyder said in a press release following the Army Corps’ announcement.

“The significance of this project cannot be overstated,” Snyder said.

Currently only the Poe Lock at the Soo is capable of handing the largest lake freighters which account for 60 per cent of the traffic. “Ten out of eleven integrated steel mills in the Great Lakes region depend primarily on taconite that must transit the Soo Locks,” the Army Corps’ financial study says.

Referring to them as the “lynchpin” of Great Lakes navigation, the Army Corps said that the Soo Locks are “nationally critical infrastructure” and are “essential to U.S. manufacturing and national security.”

The Lake Carriers Association told Great Lakes Now that construction of a new lock will benefit the local economy and “nearly one of every four dollars spent on the project will wind up as regional incomes.”

President Trump has expressed support for a new lock in campaign-style rallies in Michigan but has not provided specifics.

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