MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — After a week-long policy conference on Mackinac Island, a group of Michigan lawmakers and the governor headed to the Soo Locks to tour, what they say, is the number one infrastructure project in the country.
Congress decided decades ago that another lock was needed at Sault Ste. Marie. Now, the question is will they decided to fund one.
Friday’s tour was arranged by the Army Corps of Engineers, who operate the locks. They showed Gov. Rick Snyder and members of the Michigan congressional delegation the how and where of a new lock. The politicians needed no help with the why.
“To put it in a simple sense, this is about our national economy,” Snyder said.
The Soo Locks serves 11,000 vessels per year, carrying 90 million tons of cargo which has an impact far beyond Michigan or the Great Lakes states, lawmakers say.
The aging facility only has one lock big enough for the largest cargo ships. If that lock goes down, these elected officials are convinced that it could impact millions of jobs and cost billions of dollars.
It’s that broader impact that members hope to use to convince other lawmakers of the importance of getting funding for a new lock. U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said it will be about appealing to broader groups and leveraging relationships.
“Of the caucuses that we are members of, the Great Lakes caucus comes off as number one. We ought to have every member, bipartisan, onboard as a co-sponsor of the bill. Let’s look at the steel caucus that goes a little bit further. Let’s look at the auto caucus. There are a lot of different caucus that we ought to use, and ultimately get this job done,” Upton said.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow said the bipartisan nature of the approach could make the process more successful.
“By making this a top infrastructure project for all of us, we believe we are going to be able to move forward and get this done,” Stabenow said.
All lawmakers emphasized the bipartisan nature of the effort and pointed to that as one reasons they believe they can get the appropriations needed from Washington.
“The importance of this Soo lock has been recognized by people all over the country. In fact, many commentators that look at critical infrastructure call the Soo Locks basically the Achilles’ heel of the North American manufacturing economy,” U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said.
The Army Corps of Engineers estimates that it would take 10 years to get a new lock built at the Soo Locks. It can only happen if and when the Michigan congressional delegation can convince the rest of their colleagues to come up with the more than $1 billion price tag.