Soo Michigan Locks Closed – Lots of Work Ahead

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The Walter J. McCarthy Jr. was the last ship through the Soo Locks on January 15, 2020. (Facebook/US Army Corp of Engineers )

Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. – After remaining open for an extra few hours to accommodate the Walter J. McArthur Jr., the Soo Locks are now undergoing their yearly repair.

In the time between January 15, 2021 and March 25, 2021 they have a long list of repairs that need to be completed. In a press release, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers said they do yearly maintenance in order to keep the locks operating smoothly during the shipping season.

“The Soo Area Office team works long hours in extreme conditions to complete a significant amount of maintenance during this annual closure period. The work they perform is unique, especially given the harsh northern Michigan conditions they work in.”

One of the engineers understands the importance of shipping to national infrastructure.

“It is a difficult time in terms of weather to complete this work, but it keeps this important national infrastructure project operating during shipping season,” Soo Area Office Area Engineer Kevin Sprague said.

The press release explains some of the repairs that need to be completed, and the steps to achieve their goal or being ready for spring.

“The first step is to place the bulkheads then our dive team goes into the freezing water to seal the bulkheads and prepare the locks for dewatering,” he said. “Most of the maintenance projects will take place on the dewatered Poe Lock, the only lock large enough for the 1,000-foot freighters to transit.”

The team will install temporary panel bridges across the MacArthur and Poe Locks. These panel bridges will provide the ability to mobilize materials and equipment to the job sites throughout the winter closure.

Maintenance crews will complete Poe Lock upstream and downstream miter gate structural repair work. The miter gates are the large gates that serve as dams at each end of the lock chamber allowing the water to be raised and lowered in the chamber. One of the intermediate miter gate concrete sills will get major repairs as well.

Crews will replace ice flushing valves on the upstream miter gates and make repairs to one of the lock filling valves and one of the lock emptying valves.

Crews will also clean the Poe Lock underfloor drainage system. This is important to ensure the lock can be effectively dewatered in the future and goes a long way to minimizing ice buildup on the lock floor while work is being done.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will drydock its barge Huron on the Poe Lock floor where crews will inspect, repair, sand blast and paint it. This is a cost-effective way for the Corps to maintain its barge.

In addition to the above, crews also perform a wide range of other maintenance tasks from fender timber replacements on the piers to inspections and preventative maintenance on electrical and mechanical systems on both Poe and MacArthur Locks.

The list will be completed before the federally legislated opening date rolls back around and more than 4,500 vessels carrying 80 million tons of goods transit the system in 2021.