SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. (WJMN) – The Soo Locks will close to marine traffic for critical maintenance between 11:59 P.M. on January 15 to March 25 at 12:01 A.M.

Federal regulation sets the operating season which is partially decided by the feasibility of vessels operating in typical Great Lakes ice conditions.

“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 Engineer Kevin Sprague said.

The US Army Corps of Engineers uses the winter period each year for maintenance to keep the Soo Locks operating. Despite the harsh winter conditions the Detroit District team works long hours to complete a large amount of maintenance. They have several projects before reopening in March.

“The dewatering gate will be used at the lower end and stop logs will be set at the upper end of the Poe Lock to allow work and inspection to occur on the Poe Lock,” Maintenance Branch Chief LeighAnn Ryckeghem said. “Sequencing for the Poe Lock dewatering efforts require full operations and maintenance staffing including weekend and holiday work from Jan. 15-21.”

Ryckeghem says they don’t dewater the locks every year but they do have maintenance each year. Due to it’s age, she says the Poe Lock has undergone concurrent dewatering for major maintenance and repairs.

“This year we dewatered both the MacArthur Lock and the Poe Lock, which is the one that’s closing this weekend and it’s the larger of the two that experiences more traffic, so some of the items that are ongoing is repairs occurring on our miter gate components, structural components that support the gate structure itself,” said Ryckeghem. “We also have some major repairs and construction going on on one of our upstream miter gates, it’s gate one and that gate is going to be blasted and coated by a contractor.”

A temporary panel bridge will be installed across the Poe Lock to be used for getting materials and equipment to the job sites. Maintenance crews will work on Poe Lock hydraulic steel structure inspections, miter gate bottom girder structural repair and seal replacement, miter gate pintle concrete repairs, dewatering system maintenance and floating plant maintenance. Miter gates are the gates that work as dams at each end of the lock chamber which allow water to be raised and lowered inside it.

Ryckeghem says they will do some electrical updates, preventative maintenance and inspections. To do the work, they plan all year for the work they do during the ten weeks between January 15 to March 25. She says they have approximately 130 employees at the facility ranging from skilled trades people like equipment operators, welders and more to interdisciplinary engineers.

“It’s a very integrated effort across the facility with all of our skilled trades and engineers and the maintenance that occurs is very critical to reliability of our locks during navigational season,” said Ryckeghem.

Abhe & Svoboda Inc. of Jordan, Minnesota will rehabilitate the Poe Lock upstream primary gate. They were awarded the $4.3 million contract in July 2021 with a construction completion date for March 2022.

Crews will also complete a variety of other maintenance tasks including fender timber replacements on the piers, inspections and preventative maintenance on electrical and mechanical systems and more on both Poe and MacArthur Locks. The Corps of Engineers is building a second lock, equal in size to the Poe Lock which is 110-feet by 1,200-feet. The new lock is being built on the existing Davis and Sabin Locks sites. The Davis Lock opened in 1914 was only used for Corps vessels and has not been used since 2018. The Sabin Lock, opened in 1918, has been inactive since 1989. The Davis and Sabin Locks are too shallow for most modern vessels.

In Mid-December, the Corps of Engineers contractor finished a second year of upstream channel deepening. They excavated around 150,000 cubic yards of Jacobsville sandstone so that it’s deep enough for the 1,000-foot ships that will use it. Deepening work will resume in Spring 2022. The second phase of the project, stabilizing the existing upstream approach walls, finished the first year of construction. The contractor built an on-site concrete batch plant, installed 26 coffer cells and placed 13,000 cubic yards of concrete. That work will continue in Spring 2022 as well. The final phase of construction, constructing the lock chamber is scheduled for the 2022 construction season.

You can get updates on the Soo Locks on the USACE Detroit District Facebook page.