• ITVI.USA
    16,030.520
    117.340
    0.7%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.809
    0.016
    0.6%
  • OTRI.USA
    22.220
    -0.080
    -0.4%
  • OTVI.USA
    16,016.550
    115.560
    0.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.950
    -0.570
    -16.2%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    3.610
    0.650
    22%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.370
    -0.240
    -14.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.550
    0.210
    6.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.320
    0.220
    10.5%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    4.110
    0.250
    6.5%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    0.000
    0%
  • ITVI.USA
    16,030.520
    117.340
    0.7%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.809
    0.016
    0.6%
  • OTRI.USA
    22.220
    -0.080
    -0.4%
  • OTVI.USA
    16,016.550
    115.560
    0.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.950
    -0.570
    -16.2%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    3.610
    0.650
    22%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.370
    -0.240
    -14.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.550
    0.210
    6.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.320
    0.220
    10.5%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    4.110
    0.250
    6.5%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    0.000
    0%
American Shipper

Critical Great Lakes lock assessed for expansion

The aging Poe Lock was rebuilt in 1968 and is currently the only lock at the Soo Locks Complex equipped to handle 1,000-foot vessels.

   A maritime industry official suggested during a House panel this month that a major commercial navigation lock on the Great Lakes should be twinned to provide redundancy in case of a terrorist act, but the real danger, experts say, is from some kind of mechanical failure to the aging facility.
   The security risk at the Poe Lock, one of the Soo Locks on the St. Marys River connecting Lake Superior and Lake Huron, justifies a reevaluation about whether to build a second lock because of the potential economic damage from a closure, Lake Carriers’ Association President James Weakley said in a prepared testimony before a joint committee looking at port security and nuclear smuggling through the maritime system.
   A study by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis last October made no mention of terrorism as a potential threat to the Poe Lock, focusing instead on the economic impact on the automobile industry and the nation due to an unexpected six-month shutdown in the event equipment breaks and needs to be repaired.
   Inland waterway users have long-complained that many locks on major rivers and canals are far past their design life and are increasingly subject to temporary maintenance outages that delay shipments.
   The Poe Lock was rebuilt in 1968 and is the only lock at the Soo Locks Complex equipped to handle 1,000-foot vessels.
   Almost all North American automobile production would cease for almost 10 months and other industries that depend on steel would be severely impacted, according to the DHS report.
   Under its scenario, it would take longer than six months to get steel production going again because blast furnaces would have to be re-inspected, coke batteries for steel production would have be brought on line and iron ore inventories would have to be built up.
   The report noted that a lengthy Poe Lock closure would have catastrophic impacts on the regional and national economy. “Economic modeling shows that approximately $1.1 trillion in economic output, as measured by the Gross Domestic Product, and over 10.9 million jobs would be lost in the first year following the disruption,” the report said.
   The resulting unemployment rate of 11.3 percent would be worse than the peak of unemployment during the Great Recession in 2009.
   The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for operating and maintaining the inland navigation system, is studying again whether there is an economic justification for a parallel lock able to handle 1,000-foot bulk ships that carry iron ore from mines in Minnesota to steel plants in Indiana and Michigan that supply auto factories. Congress in 1986 authorized construction of a second Poe Lock, but appropriations cannot proceed without a positive benefit-cost ratio. Industry stakeholders questioned several assumptions in a 2005 analysis that was neutral on the economic benefits and the Corps of Engineers is taking a second look at the merits of twinning the Poe Lock after gathering feedback from steel mills, energy companies and others, Scott Thieme, the agency’s Detroit district deputy project manager, said in an interview.
   Back in 2005, the Corps of Engineers didn’t have good information on the probability of engineering components failing and it was assumed that the chance for a long-term outage was zero. There has never been a long-term failure of the Soo Locks so far. Plus, the civil works agency assumed that commodities would move by rail without taking into account that railroads haven’t kept up maintaining most of the tracks in the Minnesota mining region, and don’t have the rail cars and staff to haul massive amounts of iron ore without investing upwards of $50 billion necessary, he said.
   About 20 unit trains per day would be required to move sufficient quantities of iron ore to the steel mills in the absence of water transport, but the infrastructure is not available, the DHS report concurred.
   Using trucks, or importing foreign ore or steel are not viable options, it added.
   The Army Corps estimated it would cost $580 million and take 10 years to complete a second Poe Lock in space now occupied by two smaller locks that have been closed down.
   “We probably average about 80 million tons of cargo [on the Soo system] and about 70 percent of that has to go through the Poe-side lock, which is why we want to twin that and have a redundant lock,” Thieme said.
   The Corps of Engineers expects to complete the Economic Reevaluation in December 2017, and it will take another six months or so to go through a review at division headquarters and then go to the assistant secretary of the army for civil works before a recommendation can be made to Congress, he added.
   In the meantime, the Army Corps has been using annual operations and maintenance funding to upgrade the main components of the existing lock, with about 10-plus years left of work to overhaul the entire infrastructure at current funding levels. A full upgrade of the Poe Lock could require its complete shutdown for six to 12 months, which could only be done if there were a twin lock, the DHS report said.

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