Ohio House panel backs second Poe-sized lock

The following is the text of a news release from the Lake Carriers' Association:

(CLEVELAND) — The Ohio House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has passed a resolution calling on the federal government to build a second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., so Ohio and the country can continue to reliably receive raw materials that are vital to national and economic security. H.R. No. 263 was introduced by Rep. Mike Dovilla and co-sponsored by Reps. Andrew Brenner, Cheryl L. Grossman, Bob D. Hackett, Stephen D. Hambley, Bill Patmon, Bill Reineke, Tim Schaffer, Michael Sheehy and Martin J. Sweeney.

The Soo Locks connect Lake Superior to the lower four Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. Iron ore for the steel industry is the primary cargo moving through the locks. However, as H.R. No. 263 stresses, “only one of the four Soo Locks, the Poe Lock, is large enough to accommodate the modern vessels that commonly traverse the Great Lakes.” If there was a lengthy failure of the Poe Lock, 70 percent of U.S.-flag carrying capacity would be effectively idled and Ohio steel mills and those in Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania would soon face shortages of iron ore. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security estimates Ohio’s unemployment rate could reach 17.2 percent, 60 percent higher than the 2008-2009 Great Recession if the Poe Lock failed, and nearly 11 million unemployed workers nationwide.

Other cargoes moving through the Poe Lock include Western coal and limestone.

Congress has authorized construction of a second Poe-sized lock, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acknowledges the Soo Locks are the single point of failure for the Great Lakes Navigation System. However, as the resolution notes, “a study that contains crucial errors is preventing the construction from proceeding.”

To break the logjam, the resolution calls on the president, Congress and Office of Management and Budget “to support plans to upgrade the Soo Locks … and encourages the Corps to take expeditious action in acknowledging the national security need for maintaining the Great Lakes Navigation System, in addition to properly accounting for the limitation of transportation resources if a lock outage occurs in preparation of an Economic Re-evaluation Report.” Many industries that depend on cargo moving through the Poe Lock can only receive those raw materials via vessels.

A lock outage is far from theoretical. The MacArthur Lock was out of service for 20 days last summer and nearly 2 million tons of cargo were delayed.

The Corps recently reprogrammed $1.35 million to fund the Economic Re-evaluation Report and update the new lock’s benefit/cost ratio. They hope to finalize the report within two years, but users of the Great Lakes are calling for completion in no more than 18 months.

Lake Carriers’ Association represents 15 American companies that operate 56 U.S.-flag vessels on the Great Lakes and carry the raw materials that drive the nation’s economy: iron ore and fluxstone for the steel industry, aggregate and cement for the construction industry, coal for power generation, as well as salt, sand and grain. Collectively, these vessels can transport more than 100 million tons of cargo per year.

By Professional Mariner Staff