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Locks to open for season, but public events canceled

The Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie are seen in this undated photo. The Soo Locks are open for business starting Wednesday. Boats are due to begin coming to Marquette later this week. (AP photo)

SAULT STE. MARIE — The Soo Locks are scheduled to open Wednesday to shipping traffic and the first boat of the shipping season is expected to arrive in Marquette Friday, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District and local ore dock officials.

As maintenance at the locks concludes, crews are preparing for the locks’ opening day, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, public events scheduled for the Soo Visitor Center during the opening have been canceled, officials said.

Officials also said there is a plan in place for the continuity of operations during a crisis such as the current outbreak, and they are prepared to respond to changes accordingly.

“Our top priority is ensuring the health and safety of every member of our team, so we have taken appropriate measures to protect our work force from the current health crisis while ensuring continuity of operations,” said Lt. Col. Greg Turner, district engineer with the Detroit District.

Boats will begin to enter the LS&I ore dock at Marquette’s upper harbor, starting with the Maumee at 6 a.m. Friday, the dock reported.

The Honorable James L. Oberstar is expected at 1 a.m. Sunday, followed by the Joseph H. Thompson at 4 p.m. that day. The Lee A. Tregurtha is due at 9 a.m. Monday, with the Ashtabula expected at 7 a.m. March 31. Boat arrivals are subject to change.

The Detroit District said it remains fully operational, leveraging flexible work schedules and maximizing telework, technology, and virtual and teleconference meetings to keep projects moving forward.

It announced on its Facebook page on Saturday that the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Mackinaw entered the Poe Lock to begin opening the upper St. Marys River and Whitefish Bay as part of spring breakout in Lake Superior.

The district also announced on Facebook that all U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-managed campgrounds have begun an orderly shutdown, and individuals with paid reservations will be contacted by email. Full refunds will automatically be processed by Recreation.gov with no cancellation fees.

The Soo Locks, which are situated on the St. Marys River at Sault Ste. Marie, allow vessels to transit the 21-foot elevation change at the St. Marys Fall Canal. According to the Detroit District, over 85% of commodity tonnage through the Soo Locks is restricted by vessel size to the Poe Lock.

A new lock project will involve construction of a second Poe-sized lock measuring 110 feet by 1,200 feet on the site of the existing decommissioned Davis and Sabin locks.

More than $123 million in federal construction funds are budgeted for the new lock. Funds will be used to continue construction of the upstream approach walls, continue the design of the new lock at the Soo chamber and finish building the upstream channel deepening.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.

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