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Soo Locks rebuild urged: Unexpected closure would produce ‘nightmare scenario,’ Great Lakes Commission member says

Rep. Rick Nolan has a billion-dollar suggestion for President Donald Trump's plan to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure. "If he doesn't put it on, I'll be offering it in committee," said Nolan, D-Crosby, during a news conference in Duluth...

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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. The MacArthur Lock -- in the foreground -- was temporarily closed because one set of gates was not working properly. (file / News Tribune)
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Rep. Rick Nolan has a billion-dollar suggestion for President Donald Trump's plan to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure.

"If he doesn't put it on, I'll be offering it in committee," said Nolan, D-Crosby, during a news conference in Duluth on Monday to advocate spending for a new lock at the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., which connect Lake Superior with the rest of the Great Lakes.

It hasn't yet been determined how much the new lock would cost, but early indications are the number will be at least $1 billion, Nolan said.

To hear Nolan and a group of Great Lakes Commission members tell it, the cost of not acting could be much greater.

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"The Homeland Security Department has projected that a six-month unplanned closure of the Poe Lock at the Soo would result in a nightmare scenario for our economy," said John Linc Stine, vice chairman of the commission, which is in Duluth for its annual meeting.

Specifically, it would put 11 million people out of work, Nolan said. It would produce a $1.1 trillion hit on the nation's gross domestic product, added Vanta Coda, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.
The nightmare could play out, said Tom Rayburn of the Lake Carriers' Association, because although the Soo Locks consists of two operational locks, only the 49-year-old Poe Lock can handle most Great Lakes shipping traffic.

"Of our 49 vessels, 32 are actually restricted to the Poe Lock itself by length and by width," Rayburn said. "That represents about 85 percent of our cargo-carrying capacity."

A three-day shutdown during the summer caused by a vessel running aground in the St. Mary's River provided a glimpse of what the damage could be, Coda said. The Army Corps of Engineers estimated it cost vessel operators $2.9 million.

A new lock, which Rayburn said could be built in 6-10 years, would replace the 74-year-old MacArthur Lock and provide redundancy - if one lock were closed for whatever reason, traffic still could continue through the other.

Nolan introduced legislation that would authorize construction of a new lock with Rep. Jack Bergman, a first-term Republican from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. With eight states bordering the lakes, the measure has strong bipartisan support, he said.

That region, if it were a separate country, would have the fourth-largest economy in the world, Nolan said, citing economic analysts.

"It is imperative for both national security and for economic reasons that we muster up the will and find the money and the resources to rebuild the Soo Locks," he said.

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