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Future Bright for Soo Locks Modernization Project

January 31, 2017

For the second year in a row, Governor Rick Snyder has listed the proposed Soo Locks Modernization Project as a top priority in his State of the State address. Michigan’s top executive stated that he would urge President Donald Trump and Congress to commit to funding a second 1,000-foot lock in Sault Saint Marie. In support of his request, Snyder cites two reports: one on security issues and the other on the potential economic impact of the proposed renovations.

The first report is a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Study that I wrote about last March. The report states that a gate failure at the Soo’s Poe lock could result in up to a six month shutdown of the shipping channel. This would result in a domino effect that would have dire consequences for the mining industry, automotive and appliance manufacturers, and others. The report does not mince words, stating that an unanticipated closure of the Poe lock would be “catastrophic” for the nation.

The Poe lock is important because it is currently the only lock capable of handling the 1,000-foot “lake freighters” used to transport raw materials like iron ore. It is the only lock that permits ships of that size to travel from Lake Superior to the other Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

The second report is a recent U.S. Department of Treasury Study that Snyder says describes the “huge economic boom” that would result from construction of a second 1,000-foot lock. The report concludes that the proposed modernization project could have a net economic benefit of up to $1.7 billion. The study emphasizes that, due to size, more than 60 percent of the current U.S. and Canadian shipping fleet is limited to utilizing the Poe lock only.

Governor Snyder has stated that he plans to pitch President Donald Trump on the importance of the Soo Locks project. It appears that Trump is listening.

The Soo Locks Modernization Project has made a preliminary list of top infrastructure projects nationwide. The list, complied by the Trump transition team and distributed to the National Governors Association, was prepared to aid the incoming White House as it determines its investment priorities. While this is good news for Soo Locks advocates, the Trump administration has indicated that additional vetting for the chosen projects may be conducted by a bipartisan infrastructure commission overseeing investments. In the interim, President Trump has issued an Executive Order that expedites environmental reviews and approvals for high priority infrastructure projects.

Parties interested in providing goods or services to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for projects related to the Soo Locks should review the Federal Business Opportunities website. Soo Locks projects are categorized as Detroit District opportunities and use the contract code W911XK. 

For more information, please contact Andrew J. Switalski, author of this alert, at 517-374-9140 or aswitalski@dykema.com. You can also visit Dykema’s Infrastructure Law & Policy Blog for more updates as we continue to monitor various infrastructure issues.

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