The Detroit News: The nation’s economy and security depend on reliable Soo Locks

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By Sen. Mike Kowall, 15th District, and Sen. Wayne Schmidt, 37th District

Because of the vital importance of the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie to national and international commerce, Michigan plays a critical role in ensuring the economic health and security of the United States.

In manufacturing, steel is king, and the prime ingredient in steel is iron ore. An astonishing 99 percent of the usable iron ore in the United States comes from mines in Michigan and Minnesota.

Nearly 80 percent of that iron ore travels on massive freighters (some more than 1,000 feet long) through the Soo Locks before arriving at steel mills hundreds of miles to the south. Iron and other cargo that travel through the locks account for a tenth of the nation’s economy.

It would be difficult to overestimate the value of the Soo Locks. Michigan State University Professor Dr. Peter J. Kakela authored a research report in 2013 titled “The Economic Value of Iron Ore Transiting the Soo Locks” and presented the report to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

According to Kakela’s report:
•    The direct value of the iron ore shipped through the Soo Locks in 2012 was $5.4 billion;
•    The direct value of the steel made in the U.S. from iron ore shipped through the Soo Locks in 2012 was $15.7 billion;
•    The direct value of steel-intensive consumer products (such as automobiles) made from this steel was $287.5 billion;
•    The indirect and induced value attributed to the iron ore, steel, and consumer products listed above was an additional $212.9 billion;
•    The total dollar value attributed to the iron ore shipped through the Soo Locks in 2012 was $500.4 billion, or 3.2 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product; and
•    More than 650,000 thousand jobs depend on the iron ore shipments.

These are staggering numbers. They paint a picture of the massive economic significance of the locks — which also are of critical importance to national security.

Unfortunately, only one of the four Soo Locks — the Poe Lock — is large enough to accommodate the modern vessels that commonly traverse the Great Lakes. That is of grave concern.

According to a report by the Department of Homeland Security, if the Poe Lock were to shut down for six months, the U.S. would enter a significant recession, with a loss of up to 11 million jobs nationwide.

The situation is urgent. Upgrades to the Soo Locks are needed to ensure national security and unfettered commerce through the Great Lakes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has requested funding to conduct a study crucial to moving forward with the construction of a second, large lock. The Economic Reevaluation Report would examine the economic benefits and costs of replacing the two smallest locks — the 100-year-old Davis and Sabin locks, which are rarely used — with a lock similar in size to the current Poe Lock.

Senate Resolution 105, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Schmidt, addresses the need to upgrade the locks. The resolution encourages the president, the Congress of the United States, and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to support plans to upgrade the Soo Locks, and it urges them to approve the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ reprograming request to fund an Economic Reevaluation Report for replacing the Davis and Sabin locks.

Today we again call on President Obama, the Congress, and the Office of Management and Budget to take action. Our nation’s economy and safety depend on working, reliable Soo Locks.

This column first appeared in The Detroit News. Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the Michigan Senate majority floor leader and a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. Senator Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, is the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Note: For a print-quality version of this and other Kowall photos, click the image or click Photowire under the Media Center tab.

Photo caption: A cargo ship passes through the Poe Lock in Ste. Sault Marie, the only one of the four Soo Locks large enough to accommodate the modern vessels that commonly traverse the Great Lakes.