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January 15, 2017


DETROIT –The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, closed of the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie on Jan. 15 at midnight. The Locks will undergo maintenance and repairs until the Navigation Season re-opens on March 25.


"The Soo Locks are critical to the Great Lakes Navigation System and we have a tremendous team that operates and maintains them daily," said Lt. Col. Dennis Sugrue, district engineer. "This important maintenance and repair period is our highest priority, and is vital to the next shipping season. This work keeps the locks functioning safely and reliably for the benefit of our nation."


Planned winter maintenance work includes: Poe Lock hydraulic system testing and final commissioning, Poe Lock anchorage replacements and MacArthur Lock dewatering bulkhead weld repairs and coating replacement. Both locks are scheduled to reopen on March 25.


The MacArthur Lock closed for season Dec. 19.


More than 4,500 vessels carrying up to 80 million tons of cargo maneuver through the locks annually. Iron ore, coal, wheat and limestone are among the most frequently carried commodities. Opened in 1969, the Poe Lock is 1,200 feet long.

The MacArthur Lock was opened in 1943 and is 800 feet long.


And the Locks aren’t alone is preparing for the 2017 season with winter work on the docket.


U.S.-flag Great Lakes vessel operators are going to spend more than $80 million to maintain and modernize their vessels for the 2017 shipping season.


“Once again Lake Carriers’ Association members are demonstrating their commitment to Great Lakes shipping,” said James H.I. Weakley, President of the trade association representing the major U.S.-flag carriers.  “As a Department of Homeland Security report has emphasized, many steel mills, power plants and stone quarries do not have viable alternatives for the shipment of their raw materials.  If the U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet is not primed to meet the needs of commerce in 2017, industrial activity and hundreds of thousands of family-sustaining jobs would be in jeopardy.  This year’s winter work program ensures the vessels will be ready.”


Much of the work to be done this winter is normal maintenance such as overhauls of engines, cargo hold renewal and replacement of conveyor belts in the unloading systems.  Lakers get a real workout during the season.  Vessels in the long-haul trades will carry perhaps 50 cargos.  Hulls dedicated to the short-haul trades can easily double that total.


Reducing the industry’s carbon footprint is again a major focus.  A 1,000-foot-long U.S.-flag laker will become the fifth vessel to have an exhaust-scrubbing system installed in the past few years.  The conversion of a steamship to a diesel-powered vessel will also be completed this winter.


Several lakers will be drydocked so the hull can be surveyed by the U.S. Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping as required by U.S law.  Since they operate in a fresh water environment, lakers need only be drydocked every 5-6 years, whereas vessels in the ocean (saltwater) trades are required to be drydocked twice in a 5-year period.


The benign Lakes environment allows for long careers.  Two vessels, the MESABI MINER and the WALTER J. MCCARTHY, JR., will mark their 40th year of operation in 2017.  During those four decades of service those vessels have collectively carried approximately 220 million tons of iron ore and coal.


The oldest vessel expected to see service in 2017, the cement barge ST. MARYS CHALLENGER, will mark her 111th season on the “inland seas.”  That vessel has carried more than 100 million tons of several types of cargo since being launched as the ore carrier WILLIAM P. SNYDER in 1906


The major shipyards on the Lakes are located in Sturgeon Bay, Superior and Marinette, Wisconsin; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Toledo, Ohio.  Smaller “top-side” repair operations are located in Cleveland, Ohio; Escanaba, Michigan; Buffalo, New York; and several cities in Michigan.  The industry’s annual payroll for its 2,700 employees approaches $125 million and it is estimated that a wintering vessel generates an additional $800,000 in economic activity in the community in which it is moored.


Great Lakes shipyards continually upgrade their facilities to serve the fleet.  For example, Fraser Shipyards in Superior, Wisconsin, added an additional 880 feet of dock and berthing space in 2016.


Lake Carriers’ Association represents 13 American companies that operate 49 U.S.-flag vessels on the Great Lakes and carry the raw materials that drive the nation’s economy: iron ore and fluxstone for the steel industry, aggregate and cement for the construction industry, coal for power generation, as well as salt, sand and grain. 


Collectively, these vessels can transport more than 100 million tons of cargo per year.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, maintains a navigation system of 95 harbors, including the Great Lakes Connecting Channels that join lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, St. Clair and Erie.

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