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American Shipper

Army Corps leaves Soo Lock off stimulus project list

Army Corps leaves Soo Lock off stimulus project list

   The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday announced how it will spend the $4.6 billion appropriated in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

   The civil works agency will apply most of the money to 178 construction projects, 892 operations and maintenance projects, 45 projects on the Mississippi River and tributaries, and 67 investigation projects.

   But the exclusion from the list of a second lock at Sault St. Marie, Mich., has the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force crying foul.

   All of the projects previously received appropriations from Congress and are not new starts, in line with stimulus guidelines that money be obligated quickly, result in immediate job creation and have little schedule risk.

   Economists estimate that projects from the stimulus plan will create or maintain about 57,400 direct construction industry jobs and an additional 64,000 indirect and induced jobs in firms supplying or supporting the construction and businesses that sell goods and services to these workers and their families.

   The Great Lakes shipping industry said it was 'shocked' that the Army Corps left the project for a twin lock at Sault Ste. Marie off its list. 'The project was shovel-ready, would have created thousands of jobs, and ensured the free flow of vital raw materials on the Great Lakes for decades to come,' said Glen Nekvasil, secretary of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force.

   The project has been fully authorized and received $17 million for construction work in the fiscal year 2009 appropriation.

   'It is incomprehensible that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not include the new Soo lock in projects that will be funded from its share of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,' said Donald Cree, the coalition's president. 'Construction of the lock would have jumpstarted the economy in Sault Ste. Marie and the surrounding area like no other undertaking. The jobs it would have created have been likened to opening an auto manufacturing plant in the area.'

   Cree said the Corps' decision continues a trend of shortchanging the Great Lakes.

   'We have a dredging crisis on the Great Lakes because we don't get our fair share of federal dollars,' said Cree, who is also national vice president of the Great Lakes for the American Maritime Officers, a union representing officers on many U.S.-flag Great Lakes vessels. 'Now there's no money for a new lock at the Soo in the stimulus package. Someone in Washington has forgotten the Great Lakes region is the nation's industrial heartland. The United States will not recover from this depression until the Great Lakes basin is working again.'

   The locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., connect Lake Superior to the lower four Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway and routinely handle more than 80 million tons of cargo a year. Iron ore for steel production is the primary cargo, but the locks also handle tens of millions of tons of low-sulfur coal for Great Lakes power plants and funnel grain to overseas markets through the Seaway.

   The Task Force said the second lock is essential to ensure redundancy.

Weakley

   'The Corps has long termed the Soo Locks the single point of failure that could cripple Great Lakes shipping,' said James H.I. Weakley, vice president of the Task Force and president of Lake Carriers' Association, the trade association representing U.S.-flag vessel operators on the Great Lakes. 'If the Poe Lock goes down for even a short period, American industries will not be able to receive the raw materials the nation needs to accomplish the job creation that is supposed to be the end result of the ARRA. Seventy percent of U.S.-flag carrying capacity is restricted to the Poe Lock. If that lock is incapacitated, even more blast furnaces will go cold. Power plants will face coal shortages or have to resort to trains that burn more fuel and produce more emissions than ships. Make no mistake about it, this decision to deny the lock stimulus funds jeopardizes the nation's economic well-being and threatens to put more greenhouses gasses into the environment.'

   The complete list of projects can be found here.

   (To read more about the Army Corps' decision-making process for the stimulus funds, see May American Shipper, page 52.)

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