A new large lock at the Soo – a step closer to reality

Great Lakes Commission applauds Congressional action

Ann Arbor, Mich. — The Great Lakes Commission and other maritime transportation advocates are applauding a major breakthrough in the 20-year-long effort to build a new large lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

Last week, Congress appropriated $3 million toward the project, including $1.5 million to begin actual construction. Following several appropriations for planning and design, these are the first federal funds to be directed to construction of the new lock, which will ease the passage of large vessels between Lake Superior ports and steel mills and power plants on other Great Lakes.

“This new lock will economically benefit our entire region,” said Nathaniel E. Robinson, chairman of the Great Lakes Commission. “We’re excited to see that Congress has recognized the significance of this worthy project and shown its support by appropriating funds to begin work.”

The federal funding is in addition to nearly $5 million already contributed by the Great Lakes states of Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania. The other five Great Lakes states have also agreed to contribute a share of the cost and are devising funding strategies.

The new large lock will replace two smaller ones built more than 80 years ago. Presently, only one lock at the complex on the St. Marys River at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan can handle the 1,000-foot freighters that make up the backbone of the Great Lakes shipping fleet.

“Right now, all of our large ships have to pass through that one lock,” said George Ryan, president of the Lake Carriers Association. “If an accident or sabotage were to disable that lock, we’d lose nearly three-quarters of our carrying capacity between the upper and lower Great Lakes.”

All U.S. domestic iron ore comes from the Lake Superior region and most of it passes through the Soo Locks. The 80 – 90 million tons of cargo that pass through the Soo Locks each year also includes grain for overseas markets and low-sulfur western coal for eastern utilities.

“Studies have found that waterborne transportation is safer, more fuel-efficient and has fewer harmful emissions than rail and truck transportation,” Robinson said. “This new lock will help ensure that this beneficial mode of transport continues to play a vital role in Great Lakes commerce.”

Construction of the new lock could begin as early as next fall, with the building of coffer dams necessary to dewater of the aging Sabin and Davis locks, which it will replace. The project is expected to take an estimated five years, at a total cost of $225 million.

In addition to beginning construction, the funds approved by Congress last week will also pay for continued planning, engineering and design work.

Efforts to build a second large lock have been under way since the 1980s. Those efforts received significant assistance under the provisions of the Water Resources Development Acts of 1996 and 1999, in which Congress reduced the states’ share of the project and allowed it to be paid over 50 years, interest-free. The Great Lakes Commission has since agreed to become the nonfederal project sponsor responsible for coordinating the payment of the cost share.

For immediate release: November 9, 2001
Contact: Mike Donahue, mdonahue@glc.org, office: 734-665-9135


The Great Lakes Commission, chaired by Nathaniel E. Robinson (Wisconsin), is a nonpartisan, binational compact agency created by state and U.S. federal law and dedicated to promoting a strong economy, healthy environment and high quality of life for the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence region and its residents. The Commission consists of state legislators, agency officials, and governors’ appointees from its eight member states. Associate membership for Ontario and Québec was established through the signing of a “Declaration of Partnership.” The Commission maintains a formal Observer program involving U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, tribal authorities, binational agencies and other regional interests. The Commission offices are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

© Great Lakes Commission  |  2805 S. Industrial Hwy Suite 100  Ann Arbor, MI 48104-6791  | Directions

tel: 734-971-9135  |  fax: 734-971-9150  |  Staff directory | Site map

Follow us on Twitter Like us on Facebook GLIN Partner The binational commissions of the Great Lakes region