Our View: Keep making Poe a go
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security imagined the unimaginable: a catastrophic failure of the Poe Lock, a part of the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
Such a breach would cut Lake Superior off from the rest of the St. Lawrence Seaway — and from the rest of the world. Shipping traffic would come at a standstill across Lake Superior, most notably in Duluth-Superior, the largest port west of the Soo. Iron Range mines would shut down as ore carriers would be unable to get in or out of the big lake. And the nation would fall into an economic recession, perhaps even a depression, the federal agency determined, with 11 million Americans thrown out of work and with our gross domestic product taking a $1.1 trillion blow.
Such a disaster can be headed off, however. Encouragingly, steps have been taken — and continue to be taken — to make sure the nightmare never plays out.
The latest step came just this week, On Monday, the Detroit district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a nearly $32.4 million allocation for 2019 to deepen the upstream approach channel at the Soo Locks. That work would be in preparation for the construction of a new Poe-sized lock that would serve as a backup for the Poe.
The new Poe can be seen as an insurance policy for the Twin Ports and beyond if anything ever shut down the Poe.
"Appropriating funds for the New Soo Lock project in this year's work plan demonstrates the federal government's commitment to providing resiliency in the Great Lakes Navigation System," District Engineer Lt. Col. Greg Turner said in a statement released by the Army Corps. "It is fantastic news for the Great Lakes and our nation."
This week's announcement came on the heels of a U.S. Senate vote in October giving final approval to the plan to build the new navigation lock, the total cost estimated at $922 million — a bargain considering the alternative. And, bonus: the construction would give work to about 15,000 people. The U.S. House had already given its approval.
While the project has been authorized and while initial funding now has been allocated, the completion of the Poe backup is far from guaranteed. President Donald Trump can continue the momentum with his 2020 budget proposal. Encouragingly, the president has spoken in support of bolstering the Soo Locks.
"We're going to get them fixed," Trump said at a rally in Michigan in May. "After years of rebuilding other countries, we're finally going to rebuild our country. OK? It's about time."
It'll be up to the White House and Congress to continue funding over the next decade or longer for a project that clearly is needed.
Needed to ensure our nation's economic, transportation, and trade futures.
To preserve and continue the Twin Ports' and Lake Superior's global connections.
And to make sure the unimaginable remains exactly that.