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Trump approves funding for Soo

The downbound 1,000-foot Indiana Harbor enters one of the Soo Locks in 2017. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

President Donald Trump made good on his promise today to support funding for improvements to the Soo Locks. He signed into law a bill that authorizes a $922 million expenditure to build a new 1,200-foot-long lock in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

At present, just one lock — the Poe Lock — at the Soo is capable of handling the large 1,000-foot lakers that move most of the cargo on the Great Lakes.

The Twin Ports arguably rely more heavily on the Soo than any other Great Lakes port. All downbound ship traffic from Lake Superior must transit the Soo Locks. Adele Yorde, director of public relations for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, referred to the Poe Lock as "the Achilles heel" of the Great Lakes System.

Serving as a crucial link between Lake Superior and the rest of the Great Lakes, the Soo Locks handle up to 80 million tons of cargo annually, and about 90 percent of that freight passes through the Poe.

For years, maritime industry officials have warned of the dire consequences that would arise if the aged Poe Lock ever were to go out of service during the shipping season. The Poe was built in 1896 and then rebuilt in 1968.

A Department of Homeland Security study predicted a six-month closure of the Poe Lock would bring domestic steel production to a halt, and 11 million Americans would lose their jobs.

Building a new Poe-sized lock will be a big job. Construction is expected to take seven years to complete, and the project is expected to create 15,000 jobs. The project likely wouldn't be complete until 2030 at the earliest.

Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., announced Trump's signing of America's Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 this afternoon, via a news release.

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