Soo Locks: 2015 Great Lakes Shipping Season Opens This Week
The 2015 Great Lakes shipping season kicks off this week, as the first vessel passage through the Soo Locks after its yearly re-opening is expected to take place on Wednesday. This civil engineering landmark helps vessels move between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, where the St. Mary’s River drops 21 feet in a short stretch. It also provides ocean-going vessels, or “salties,” to reach Lake Superior from far-away ports in Africa, Europe and Asia.
After several months of frozen waters, Coast Guard ice cutters have been hard at work clearing shipping lanes as signs of spring and the melting that comes with it continue to emerge. Some freighters had a rough go of it late in the previous season, as they got stuck in thick ice and had to wait several days or longer to be freed – the Arthur M. Anderson and Peter Cresswell, both frequent visitors to the locks, were among the vessels that made the news due to their experiences.
More than 7,000 vessel passages were made through the locks last year, with cargoes totaling in excess of 75 million tons. Visitors of all ages have enjoyed visiting the area for decades, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides a viewing platform to watch the ships as they go through the locks and a visitor center with interactive displays, historical information and vessel arrival times.
The locks have also been in the news recently as they continue to battle for funding to build a “super lock” that would give a second option for the “lakers” that are around a thousand feet in length. Currently, those vessels can only use the Poe Lock, which often creates back-ups when traffic is heavy.
From the platform and looking north the four locks are: the MacArthur Lock (800 feet long), Poe Lock (1,200 feet long), Davis Lock (1,350 feet long – rarely used) and the Sabin Lock (1,350 feet long – in caretaker status). Replacing the Davis and Sabin locks with the proposed “super lock” would be expensive, but would also have a huge and immediate impact on Great Lakes shipping.
The locks and visitor center are located at 515 E. Portage Ave. in Sault Ste Marie, MI. The book Know Your Ships is published and updated yearly, and is a great purchase for anyone interested in Great Lakes Shipping, as it provide vessel size and ownership information as well as great places to boat watch and types of cargo typically carried. Engineers Day at the locks will take place on June 26, the only time all year that visitors are allowed past the security fences for an up-close view of operations.