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Soo Locks closing Saturday

U.S. Army Corps will oversee and perform additional maintenance on the Soo Locks this winter
U.S. Coast Guard photo

It is that time of year again, when the Soo Locks close to ships and its maintenance period begins.

A press release issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed the Soo Locks will close to marine traffic beginning 11:59 p.m. Jan. 15 through 12:01 a.m. March 25 for annual repairs and construction. 

“The 15th will be our last day in operation,” Army Corps Area engineer Kevin Sprague said. “We will remain open on Friday for ships that leave the port on Lake Superior by midnight on the 14th.”

The revolving operating and closing seasons are dictated by federal regulation.

“The Detroit District team works long hours in extreme conditions to complete a significant amount of maintenance during this annual closure period,” Army Corps public affairs specialist Carrie Fox stated in the release.

She explained that the work performed can be unique, given the harsh northern winter climate. Nonetheless, there is much to be done prior to March. 

“The dewatering gate will be used at the lower end and stop logs will be set at the upper end of  the Poe Lock to allow work and inspection to occur on the Poe Lock,” maintenance branch chief LeighAnn Ryckeghem stated. “Sequencing for the Poe Lock dewatering efforts requires full operations and maintenance staffing including weekend and holiday work.”

According to the release, a temporary panel bridge will be installed across the Poe Lock to allow for the passing of materials and equipment to job sites.

“Maintenance crews will complete Poe Lock hydraulic steel structure inspections, miter gate  bottom girder structural repair and seal replacement, miter gate pintle concrete repairs,  dewatering system maintenance and floating plant maintenance,” stated Fox.

“The miter gates are the large gates that serve as dams at each end of the lock chamber allowing the water to be raised and  lowered in the chamber.” 

According to the release, contractors Abhe & Svoboda  Inc. of Jordan, MN, will rehabilitate the Poe Lock’s upstream gate, in a $4.3-million contract agreement. 

Other maintenance tasks will include fender timber replacements on the piers to inspections, as well as preventative maintenance on electrical and mechanical systems on the Poe and MacArthur Locks. 

Fox stated that the Corps of Engineers is building a second Poe-sized lock. The goal is to provide resiliency in the Great Lakes Navigation System. 

The second Poe-size lock will be 110 feet by 1,200 feet in size, on the existing Davis and Sabin Locks sites. 

“The Davis Lock, which opened in 1914, has not been used since 2018,” Fox stated. “The Sabin Lock opened in 1918 and has been inactive since 1989. Both the Sabin and Davis Locks are too shallow for most modern vessels.” 

As written in the release, Corps of Engineers completed the upstream channel in December. Approximately 150,000 cubic yards of Jacobsville sandstone were excavated. It will be deep enough for 1,000-foot ships to pass through. Related work is set to resume in spring. 

The project’s second phase was to stabilize the upstream approach walls. The contractor developed an on-site concrete batch plant, installing 26 coffer cells and placing 13,000 cubic yards of concrete. These upstream approach walls work will also resume in the spring.

Constructing the lock chamber is the final project phase, which is scheduled to begin during the 2022 construction season. 

“I will miss seeing the ships go by,” said Sault Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Linda Hoath, preparing for winter tourism.  

Go to the The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit Disctrict website or Facebook page for more information about the final vessels transiting the Poe Locks and any maintenance updates.

— SooToday