Army Corps proposing temporary project office space in Canal Park

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is seeking public comments through January 13, 2021 on its proposal to place temporary office space in Canal Park on the Soo Locks property in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

The proposed one-story, single modular structure, consisting of multiple pre-engineered structures linked together, will house Corps Integrated Project Office (IPO) employees overseeing the New Lock at the Soo project construction. The $1 billion lock construction project could take up to 10 years to complete, according to IPO Resident Office Project Manager Isaac Freel.

“We’re proposing to place the offices near the park entrance,” Freel said. “This location provides readily available access to sewer, water and electric. It also provides proximity to the Soo Area Office and the project site, which will greatly facilitate communication and project oversight.”

The offices will take up about a 50-foot by 120-foot area in the park and have a semi-permanent look. “Aesthetically, it won’t look like a typical construction site with trailers and portable toilets everywhere,” he said. “It needs to look attractive until we’re finished with lock construction. Then we can remove it and restore the park.”

The Soo Locks property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark with Canal Park being a key component of the locks’ historic nature. In consultation with the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and National Parks Service the Corps determined placing a structure at this location, even temporarily, adversely affects the Soo Locks historic nature as defined under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966.

“We’ve reached a tentative agreement with SHPO and the park service regarding mitigation and are proposing a memorandum of agreement required under Section 106 to identify how the Corps will mitigate the adverse effect,” Freel said. “The Corps is agreeing to remove the structure after lock construction is complete and restore Canal Park.”

A public comment period, to help ensure the Corps considers all effects, is part of the process required by the Section 106. The Corps considered three alternatives regarding IPO placement:

  • Alternative 1 – using the Soo Locks Administration Building third floor
  • Alternative 2 – leasing off-site space
  • Alternative 3 – constructing modular offices on Soo Locks property – several site locations were reviewed

“These alternatives were considered in terms of space, utilities available, proximity, timeliness, minimal effects to historic preservation, visitor experience, and cost,” Freel said.

IPO team members are currently working in the Soo Locks Visitor Center which is closed due to the COVID pandemic. The modular structure could be in place by Fall 2021 and the Corps is pursuing a short-term lease to vacate the Visitor Center by May when it is tentatively scheduled to open for the 2021 season.

“Our desire is to move out of the Soo Locks Visitor Center as soon as possible to ensure minimal impact to tourism,” Freel said.

The complete public notice, draft memorandum of agreement and alternative analysis are available on the Detroit District’s website at the bottom of this page: https://go.usa.gov/xAgrc. Any concerns or comments regarding the proposed project can be emailed to [email protected].

The Corps is building a second Poe-sized lock to provide much needed resiliency in the Great Lakes Navigation System. The Soo Locks are nationally critical infrastructure and their reliability is essential to U.S. manufacturing and national security. Nearly all domestically produced high-strength steel used for manufacturing products like automobiles and appliances is made with iron ore that transits the Poe Lock.

The second Poe-size lock, 110-feet by 1,200-feet, is being built on the existing Davis and Sabin Locks sites. The Davis Lock opened in 1914, is rarely used anymore, and only to transport Corps vessels. The Sabin Lock opened in 1918 has been inactive since 1989.

The Corps contractor is wrapping up the first year of upstream channel deepening, excavating between two and six feet of Jacobsville sandstone to deepen it enough for the 1,000-foot ships that will use it.

Because of the harsh northern Michigan winters, the deepening work wrapped up mid-December and will resume in April 2021. The project’s second phase to stabilize the existing upstream approach walls will also begin in April.

The project’s final phase is construction of the new lock chamber. The Detroit District is preparing the 100% design package and the final design review will be in early 2021. Corps officials anticipate phase three construction will begin in spring 2022.