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Defense bill awaiting Biden signature includes $3.2 billion for long-planned Soo Locks project

An artists rendering shows an overhead view of a second lock planned for the Soo Locks.
Ricky Garcia/Army Corps of Engineers
courtesy Army Corps of Engineers
A rendering of a completed second lock at the Soo Locks in Sault St. Marie.

A new defense spending bill headed for the president’s desk has billions in spending for infrastructure projects on the Great Lakes.

That includes more than $3.2 billion to finish construction of a second lock for the Soo Locks. Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow has pushed for the spending for years, including at a hearing earlier this year with leaders of the Army Corps of Engineers.

“It’s hard for me to think of a single piece of infrastructure more consequential to our economy than the Soo Locks,” Stabenow said atthe hearing in January.

Michael Connor, who oversees the Army Corps of Engineers agreed on the importance of the allocation, and included it in the Corps funding request for the year.

“The reliance on that system, and the lack of redundancy that exists, it’s concerning,” Connor said at the Senate hearing. “It’s one of those things that you do wake up in the middle of the night thinking about.”

The construction of a new lock was previously budgeted at closer to $1 billion, but the Army Corps of Engineers said labor shortages, inflation and design changes lead to the three-fold increase in project costs.

But leadership at the Army Corps estimates the economic damage could be far worse if it’s forced to close the existing Poe Lock, with no second lock that would allow large ships to pass through. Itcites a 2015 Department of Homeland Security study that estimated a six-month closure of the Poe Lock would cost the U.S. economy $1.1 trillion and lead to the loss of 11 million jobs. The Corps said this summer it expects the second lock construction project to be complete by 2030.

The defense spending bill also includes money for other infrastructure projects on the Great Lakes, including an increased commitment from the federal government to help cover the costs of two dams critical to stopping the spread of invasive fish into the Great Lakes. The spending bill also includes money for Michigan communities to prepare for increased flood risk and erosion due to climate change-driven storms.

Michigan’s two U.S. Senators praised the spending bill when it passed Congress last week. The bill now awaits President Biden’s signature to become law.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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