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Michigan Congress members seek Soo Locks security study

 iron ore carrying ship
A proposal to study security needs at the Soo Locks comes as construction continues on a new, larger lock capable of handling larger ships. Some 10,000 vessels pass through the locks every year. (Thomas Barrat /
  • Four members of Michigan’s congressional delegation seek new study of security at the Soo Locks
  • A 2015 study found a six-month closure of the Poe Lock would shut down wide swaths of the economy and cost 11 million jobs 
  • Construction of a new lock for larger ships is ongoing, expected to be completed in 2030

The Soo Locks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — sometimes known as the “linchpin of the Great Lakes” and a vital cog in international shipping — could be reexamined for possible security issues under legislation pending in Congress. 

Led by U.S. Rep. John James, R-Shelby Township, the bill would require the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Defense to study the locks’ security needs and the economic impact report of an unexpected closure.


The Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie connect Lake Superior to the rest of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway, raising and lowering some 10,000 vessels each year to even out the 21-foot drop between Lake Superior and Lake Huron water levels. 


More than 90 percent of the U.S. supply of iron ore is shipped through the locks. 

Currently, only one of the locks — the 1,200-foot Poe Lock — is big enough for the 1,000-foot ships that carry the bulk of Great Lakes shipping cargo. The MacArthur lock is used for smaller ships, and a new, larger lock is under construction and expected to be complete by summer 2030. 

The U.S. House passed the bill on a voice vote on Wednesday. Co-sponsors include fellow Michigan Reps. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet; Hillary Scholten, D-Grand Rapids; and Dan Kildee, D-Flint. 

In a Tuesday media call, James said he aims to build on an October 2015 study of the Soo Locks, which found a six-month closure of the Poe Lock would halt Great Lakes steel production, cost 11 million jobs, send the unemployment rate skyrocketing and shut down wide swaths of the U.S. economy. 

James said the new study, which he estimates would cost less than $500,000, would offer an up-to-date analysis of security risks that could “help safeguard our national defense and vital commerce.” 

“These are things that, from a cost perspective to the American taxpayer, would be relatively minimal given the massive impact they would have…and being able to make the case of how critical this infrastructure is to our security and to our economy,” he said.


James, a first-term congressman representing southern Macomb County and a former Army pilot, said he wants more soldiers capable of defending the Soo Locks at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township in Macomb County.

James is also calling for upgraded defense to counter potential cyberattacks on shipping software.

In all, the project of upgrading the Soo Locks is expected to take several more years and billions of dollars, which must be authorized by Congress piece by piece as different phases of construction are completed. 

Separately, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Twp., announced last week that another $235 million appropriation for the Soo Locks for the coming fiscal year had advanced to the full Senate for consideration.

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