Much of the work on the new super lock in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan continues to take place below the waterline. The growing pile of sandstone bedrock and loose sediment on the northwest pier is evidence of ongoing preparation to construct the new lock chamber.
Throughout 2021, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is continuing simultaneous work on all three phases of the $1.375 billion project. The result will be a 1,200-foot long, 110-foot wide and 32-foot deep chamber for locking through the Great Lakes’ largest lakers.
“We are constantly striving to reach world-class status while constructing the new lock,” says Mollie Mahoney, project manager for the Corps. “From the designers putting pen to paper to the contractors placing concrete, we are all working together to ensure the best possible product is delivered to serve navigation on the Great Lakes for the next 100 years.”
The Soo Locks are responsible for moving 100% of the iron ore used in manufacturing goods from Minnesota and Michigan mines to steel mills along lower Lakes Michigan and Huron. it has long been referred to as a “choke point” for raw materials because the system’s largest ships can only transit using the poe Lock, which opened in 1968.
“The Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan serve as a gateway to transport nearly 80 million tons of goods and raw material that supply the region’s manufacturing, mining and agricultural industries,” says a bipartisan statement to Congress by the Great Lakes Task Force. “The June 29, 2018, Economic Validation Study and post Authorization Change report for the Soo Lock project noted that ‘the strategic importance of the Soo Locks cannot be overstated.’ Further, a report by the Department of Homeland Security concluded it was ‘hard to conceive’ of a single piece of infrastructure more consequential in terms of impact to the economy from an unexpected and sustained closure.”
The letter, dated April 20, 2021, was signed by 32 members of Congress from both parties as a joint request for funding Great Lakes priorities in the 2022 budget.
Phase 1: Nearing Completion
Upstream channel deepening is ongoing. The project involves deepening much of the 1-mile channel to 30 feet.
Before the area began to be prepared for the new lock, it housed the Soo’s two oldest and smallest locks—the Davis Lock, which opened in 1914, and the Sabin Lock, which opened in 1919. neither lock has been operational for years.
As a result, the channel is too shallow for today’s large lakers. The bedrock is as high as 25 feet below low water datum in some areas, according to Mahoney. Clearing the way for commerce means removing roughly 300,000 cubic yards of material, both bedrock and sediment.
The cost of phase 1 is $52.6 million and included constructing an access road to the northwest pier, where the material is being placed. Deepening is being accomplished by using equip- ment like a Xcentric ripper and a dredge with a 6.5-cubic-yard bucket.
With a 20-month timeline, Trade West Construction Co. is on track to finish upstream channel deepening by fall.
Phase 2: Fixing Walls
Years since being used, the upstream approach walls need improvement. The work involves rehabilitating walls upstream of the new lock, including reconstructing walls, concrete caps, mooring bollards, electrical and lighting.
The work is being done by Kokosing Alberici, with its team arriving this spring and working through fall 2023—a 36-month timeline. This phase costs $111.3 million.
One of the first items of work involves filling the old sluiceway between the upstream approach channel and the Unit 10 power plant headrace. The sluiceway allows water from the north channel to enter the power plant. it is first being filled with stone to create a temporary dam and then a five-steel sheet pile will form a permanent dam. rehabilitating the walls involves several methods, which includes installing:
- 1,900 feet of 34-foot steel sheet pile cells (blue in the diagram)
- 1,000 feet of steel sheet pile transi- tion walls (orange in the diagram)
- 1,100 feet of steel sheet pile faced wall (blue in the diagram)
- 1,100 feet of concrete for the wall (green in the diagram)
Also being addressed is inadequate lighting and cap repairs along the west center pier. The Corps also hopes to address an area of the wall near the west end that’s failing and build a breakwater farther west.
“Working on the Soo Locks mega-project has been challenging but rewarding,” says Mahoney. “I am a Michigan native and fully understand the importance of this project to the Great Lakes and the nation.”
Phase 3: Constructing the Chamber
With the design of the new lock chamber being completed in July 2021, construction is nearing. A contract for the work is expected to be awarded by February 2022. The winning company’s team and equipment will move onsite that spring.
Construction of the chamber will take five to eight years, according to the Corps timetable.
Virtual reality technology was used by the design team to conduct 70% of the design review. A number of changes made to the design based on the virtual review include operating shelter sightlines, additional lock floor catch basins and the addition of miter gate tie-back recesses.
The new lock design includes technology beyond what the current Poe Lock offers.
The most notable improvement is the installation of hands-free mooring, which aligns the lock with the rest of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway system. The technology secures ships in the lock with vacuum pads that move up and down as the water level changes. The mooring system frees ships from needing to have crew tie up to bollards in the lock. in use throughout the system’s other locks, the technology has proven to increase safety and efficiency. its use during the pandemic came as an unexpected value.
A primary factor in advocating that a second poe-sized lock be built was creating redundancy for the system’s largest freighters to continue moving goods even if the poe malfunctioned or was otherwise disabled. in the same sense, building the lock with identical dimensions creates the opportunity for parts, such as the miter gates, to be interchangeable.
Another visible part of lock construction is adding office space along West portage Avenue in Soo Locks Upper Canal park for the construction team. The modular structure is slated to be in place by november.
For a virtual look at the new chamber, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=lpWzCeSllOc.
MEET THE TEAM
Michelle Cortright is Publisher of Great Lakes/Seaway Review and Harbor House Publishers. She purchased the business from her father, diversifying the company into custom publications for chambers of commerce and economic development organizations. It has and continues to assist in regional business growth by creating business magazines, visitor guides and aiding clients with image development.
As Publisher, Cortright oversees every aspect of product creation, which encompasses the editorial and business sides of our print, digital and mobile publications. She meets with clients, which we consider true partners, spearheads business development and is always looking ahead for “the next thing.”
There is often laughter coming from Cortright’s office as she interacts with partners from throughout the Midwest. She is fully entrenched in her labor of love, a company we now celebrate for 50 years of making a difference and supporting families.
She is the mother of an adult son, who is now a business owner in the same town, and is married to Rod Cortright, who pretends to be retired but remains involved as our corporate pilot and jack-of-all-trades.
Executive Vice President
“For over 20 years, I have had the privilege of being a member of the talented team which produces Great Lakes/Seaway Review. Of utmost importance to me are the people and relationships that I have developed with our stakeholders, advertisers, subscribers and business associates in the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway maritime industry.
“Growing up in the Great Lakes area, I have always been intrigued by the water and the role it plays commercially, economically and in the quality of life it provides me personally as an avid boater on Lake Michigan. May the legacy of this 50th anniversary edition of Great Lakes/Seaway Review be a catalyst for the next 50 years of inspiration, innovation, advocacy and the development of relationships for advancing the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway system.”
Janenne Irene Pung has been Editor of Great Lakes/Seaway Review for 16 years. During her time with the magazine, she has represented the company at binational meetings, more fully activated the Editorial Advisory Board, developed new departments and evolved editorial styles.
Prior to joining Harbor House Publishers, Pung worked in mainstream media as a reporter and editor. She then moved into risk communications for the nuclear industry, documenting (visually and in writing) and communicating the process of decommissioning a plant and returning the lakeside property to a natural state.
In addition to being a professional, Pung is a wife and mother. She teaches life skills at a woman’s transition home and is a member of the Charlevoix County Sheriff’s Office Victim Services Unit. In both roles, she helps people work through trauma.
“For years, Great Lakes/Seaway Review was the monster project in our office that I didn’t have to tackle. When becoming Creative Director, I was nervous about the daunting task of designing the magazine. Since then, the team has worked hard to modernize our look and make the magazine as beautiful as it is informative.”
“Growing up, the Great Lakes were a place to swim and watch sunsets. After helping produce the magazine, I’ve learned that they are home to an entire network of companies which provide materials that support my everyday life. Each time I send the magazine to press and help prepare the digital edition, I feel a deep sense of accomplishment.”
“I’m the guy behind the scenes coding, creating the website and, most recently, designing the magazine’s online archive. I make shipping more visible for our subscribers and advertisers, as well as track global use of our digital products. It’s always a challenge to bring new technologies into a historic industry that’s still known for blue-collar production, but it’s a challenge I enjoy.”
“For several years I worked with a Mackinac Island, Michigan-based company and had the pleasure of photographing and taking videos of vessels passing through the Straits of Mackinac, especially the Round Island passage. My love and admiration for them was formed—and continues to grow. I now have the pleasure of working in the maritime industry and understand how important and vital these vessels are to our region and the economy. My goal is to work with our partners in the industry to help us all reach our collective best in the years ahead.”
Senior Account Manager
“Great Lakes/Seaway Review knits together every aspect of the Great Lakes commercial maritime industry from deckhands to CEOs to ports.”
Senior Account Manager
“I’ve known the magazine since Volume 1, first as a consultant in St. Paul working with Great Lakes clients and later as the Great Lakes Commission Executive Director, partnering with Jacques LesStrang. The last 30 years, I’ve worked on the inside.
“What makes Great Lakes/Seaway Review different is informed advocacy. Everything in the magazine is informed, factual and researched. We have spearheaded and partnered in research that led us to advocate for season extension, forgiveness of Seaway debt and removal of tolls, designation of the Fourth Seacoast, recognition and control of invasive species and many other issues benefitting the system today.
“Informed advocacy draws people to Great Lakes/Seaway Review for information and understanding—and it’s what makes it valuable to our advertisers and our readers.”
“Any successful business relies on timely, accurate information to stay ahead in their industry. Great Lakes/Seaway Review magazine is a trusted source of news and analysis of information needed by all members of the maritime community.”
“Historically, many of my family members have traveled the Great Lakes as ship captains, first mates and engineers. In fact, I had a family member perish when the Bradley went down in November 1958. As a child, my aunt would take me to the port in Rogers City to watch the ships load and unload their cargo. The mystique and beauty of the Great Lakes have been of particular interest to me.
“For the past 26 years, I have had the privilege of working with this talented team, which truly supports and advocates for the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway system.”
“I have early childhood memories of my dad loading us in the car on a Sunday afternoon and driving up to the Soo to watch the boats go through the locks, eat ice cream and buy saltwater taffy. I still go several times during the season. I have always loved that you can talk to the sailors on the ships—asking them where they’ve been and what they’re hauling. It’s like the whole world is at your doorstep.”
“Lake ports can grow no faster than shipping will permit. Shipping cannot grow beyond the capabilities of the ports. Yet neither has come close to reaching their present potential and will not until the savings in time and in dollars is fully understood by those who make the decisions on how and when and where to move goods. To the ends of development and information, the Seaway Review dedicates itself.”
Editor from 1985-2003
“Jacques LesStrang, founder of Great Lakes/Seaway Review, had many talents, or “skill sets,” as we say today. But one that served him particularly well throughout his career as a writer, editor, publisher, publicist, etc., was his knack for knowing a good story when he saw it. And the story he recognized in 1969—the 10th anniversary of the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway—was as good as it gets. In fact, that story was so good it is still being told today, 50 years later.
“The publication created by LesStrang, or “J.L.” as his staff knew him, to mark the Seaway’s 10th anniversary was so well done, and so well received, that it grew legs, as it were, and took off running as a full-color, high-quality quarterly which became the most widely recognized chronicler of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway system. Having Great Lakes/Seaway Review continue in that role today speaks volumes about the ongoing commitment of the current Publisher Michelle Cortright to Jacques LesStrang’s vision and high standards. Staying competitive in today’s information scrum is challeng-ing, to say the least, for print media. It requires dynamic, well-researched, topical content presented accurately and in a visually compelling format. In other words, it requires telling a good story. That was true in 1969, it is still true today and nobody tells it better than Great Lakes/Seaway Review.”