Preparatory work on a new Super Lock on the St. Mary's River is expected to commence by year's end. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer, operators of the canal at Sault Ste. Marie (Michigan), briefed members of the Sault (Ontario) transportation committee in late March on the upcoming $227-million infrastructure project expected to take five years to complete.
With river-dredging operations on the approaches to the proposed lock expected to be completed this year, engineers anticipate erecting a coffer dam around the construction site by late 2002. Demolition and excavation work on the site of two older locks will then begin.
The corps of engineers operates four locks, but increasingly rely on just one, the Poe, the only one that can accommodate 1,000-foot freighters. After the Poe opened in 1969, shipbuilders designed new vessels to match its dimensions. The largest freighters now squeeze in with barely five feet to spare, side-to-side. Should the Poe ever be damaged, it would shut those ships either in or out of Lake Superior and would bring marine commerce on the upper Great Lakes almost to a standstill.
The new lock will replace two older locks, the seldom-used Davis and Sabin locks considered too shallow and narrow to accommodate modern vessels. Both would be demolished.
After a 15-year wait, U.S. Congressional lawmakers finally approved an appropriations bill in 2001 with an initial $3 million toward the project.
The multimillion-dollar infrastructure project is expected to be an economic boon to Michigan's Upper Peninsula.