Soo Locks to Open Early

Soo Locks to Open Early

The Army Corps of Engineers will open its Soo Locks four days early to launch the shipping season for Great Lakes freighters, after getting requests from users citing “an improved business climate.”

The Corps’ Detroit district office said it will open its Poe Lock – part of the Soo Locks complex at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. -- at 7 a.m. March 21, so freighters can move between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes. It was previously scheduled to start the new shipping season March 25 after its normal winter shutdown.

The Corps also said it is taking the step so cargo shippers can “replenish critically low ore and coal inventories.” On the lakes, iron ore carriers and coal ships load from mine-served ports on the western edge of Lake Superior and haul it down to steel mills and other customers in areas around Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and other locations.

Traditionally, the Soo Locks handle more than 4,000 vessels a year hauling up to 80 million tons of cargoes including grain and limestone as well as coal and ore. Last year, as the recession closed many automotive plants, steel output collapsed and Great Lakes shipping volume plunged for a wide range of bulk cargoes.

Now, the combination of new demand and light ice means the Corps can open the locks early to get cargoes moving.

“Our work force is ready to accommodate this request this year, helping the maritime industry serve their customers with significant quantities of raw materials to fill vital needs,” said Lt. Col. James Davis, district commander.

But lock maintenance crews have some remaining seasonal chores to finish first. Kevin Sprague, winter repair coordinator, said most general maintenance and repairs were completed over the normal winter work schedule. “Some of the last few projects left will be expedited during the next few weeks to make sure the locks are ready to open,” he said.

Contact John D. Boyd at jboyd@joc.com.