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Another shutdown coming for Soo Locks

Work Monday addressed about half of the job before crews ran into difficulty. A second shutdown is ahead in the next couple of weeks, said a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official.

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Spectators watch as the freighter Isa transits the Poe Lock in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., in July, 2015, on its way to Lake Superior. (File / News Tribune)
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On the one hand, work Monday on the Soo Locks kept the planned 12-hour shutdown of the Poe Lock to a minimum, closing it for roughly seven hours. On the other hand, another closure will be necessary in the coming weeks, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said on Wednesday, as workers encountered equipment issues and conditions for which they weren't prepared.

"We encountered some differing site conditions," Jeff Harrington, operations branch chief at the Army Corps' Soo Area Office, describing "unexpected dimensions" on one half of the sill being repaired, along with equipment troubles welding underwater.

"We'll need to get back in the water to repair it," Harrington said.

Harrington described the work so far, much of it concrete pouring: "The gate is a door and we were working on the sill area which acts as a threshold to prevent water from bypassing the gate. We had good success on one side and not the other."

The Soo Locks connect Lake Superior with the remaining Great Lakes to the east. At 1,200 feet long, the Poe Lock currently is the only one of the Soo Locks able to handle the thousand-foot lakers that move most of the cargo on the Great Lakes.

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Work Monday highlighted the need for a redundant lock as any delays can impact the shipping industry to the tune of millions of lost dollars. The News Tribune reported earlier this month that inadequate ice-breaking during the spring caused $1 billion in lost revenue.

Federal funding of almost $1 billion for a new large lock was approved this year with construction expected to begin in 2020.

Regarding the upcoming closure, "We'll be looking at the next couple of weeks," Harrington said.

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