Partnership News and Views: Soo Locks are vital to economic prosperity

Amy Clickner, CEO, Lake Superior Community Partnership

You may remember back in April, during a visit to Michigan, President Trump called on Congress to fix the Soo Locks. The locks remain the largest waterway traffic system in the country and allow freighters to carry critical supplies through the Great Lakes of Michigan. Just a Michigan issue? Not at all. The viability of the locks has a significant impact on the entire North American economy.

So what is the problem with the Locks you might ask? There are currently only two locks that are operational, the Poe and MacArthur. MacArthur is too small for modern freighters, leaving the Poe Lock to handle all that traffic. But the 49-year-old Poe Lock needs major repairs, which cannot be done without shutting the lock down, leaving no way for freighters to pass.

That is why it is critical to not only repair the Poe Lock but construct a new lock that can handle the same type of vessels. The new lock will be operational while the Poe lock is being fixed and will remain in place to provide stability moving forward. We no longer will need to be concerned that there may be an unexpected closure of the Poe Lock, representing millions of jobs nationwide and impacting our national security.

Here are some interesting facts about the locks:

• Shipping on the Great Lakes saves $3.5 billion a year in transportation costs

• They handle 75 million tons of commerce annually

• 100 percent of iron ore mined in the U.S. comes through the Soo Locks

• $500.4 billion of iron ore pass through annually

• One freighter equals 3,000 trucks of capacity

• The locks are ranked first in economic significance (out of 196 locks)

So what if the Locks were to shut down completely? We would see:

• 100 percent of North American auto production halted within weeks

• In 30 days, there would be a negative $160 million economic impact

• A six-month shutdown would result in the loss of 11 million jobs nationwide

• The gross domestic product would decrease by $1.3 trillion

Believe it or not, back in 1986, upgrades were approved by Congress but funds never appropriated. At this point in time, the expansion would cost up to $900 million (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimate) but it is anticipated that a second lock could generate $1.7 billion a year in new economic benefit! Now I can honestly tell you, that is the largest potential project on my desk right now.

Recently, the state of Michigan committed $50 million toward a regional contribution approach to leverage additional nonfederal investment and is encouraging other Great Lakes states to join in partnership to move the Soo Locks project forward. Again, this is not just about Michigan or the Upper Peninsula, it is much greater than that, and it will need all of us rowing in the same direction to accomplish it.

So what can you do to help?

• Support this project by understanding its scope

• Work with your local and state chambers to support the effort

• Contact your Congressional delegation and state Legislature on support for this effort

• Be active on social media about the imperative need for this project using the hashtag #fixthesoolocks

• Be sure to visit www.michigan.gov/fixthesoolocks for more information about the project and to thank the president for his commitment to this upgrade

• Send a support letter or resolution to decision makers

The Lake Superior Community Partnership website, www.marquette.org, will have all of this information including sample support letters and resolutions for your use. Check back often, as we will continue to be a part of the process and provide updates.

Thank you in advance for your support!

Editor’s NOTE: Amy Clickner is CEO of the Lake Superior Community Partnership. Her twice-monthly column will address topics of interest to the local business community.