More than 1,000 jobs could be added to Sault Ste. Marie with the creation of a new Soo Lock, according to InvestUP, a private sector-led economic development organization focused on driving economic growth in the Upper Peninsula. More than $32 million has been secured for the 2019 fiscal year to help design and start initial construction.
In fall 2018, $922 million was authorized by Congress to construct a new lock in the system, which allows lake freighters to travel between lakes Superior and Huron. Currently, the Poe Lock is the only one capable of handling the larger vessels, and construction could last seven-10 years.
“If you look at the impact total, that’s 1,120 jobs over eight years,” says Maureen Mahoney, project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “We estimate at the peak of construction there will be 250 workers on site.”
The Army Corps of Engineers estimated a residual effect of $559 million in labor income impacting the local economy over the course of construction. This takes into consideration workers and their families spending money at local restaurants, stores, and hotels.
There have been plans to build a super lock since the 1980s where the dormant Davis and Saban locks are. A second lock would decrease chances of closure of the locks during the navigation season between March 25 and January 15.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimated in 2015 that a six-month closure to the Poe Lock during shipping season could temporarily reduce gross domestic product by $1.1 trillion and result in the loss of more than 10 million jobs in the U.S. and up to 16 million across North America. The freighters haul mainly taconite, a low-grade iron ore, and shipping is the most economical way to transfer it across the country.
“If you look at the main commodities that come through, they’re bulk commodities,” says Kevin Sprague, Soo Locks-area engineer. “If you get in a car that is made in the United States, it was made with iron ore that went through the locks. There’s no way around it.”
On Nov. 21, 2018, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would use the $32 million in initial funding to proceed with construction by deepening an upstream channel.
A press release regarding the $32 million said the next opportunity for funding to continue working on the deepening of an upstream channel for the new lock would be in the 2020 president’s budget.