University Research Corridor Experts Discuss Maritime Trade, Soo Locks

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Researchers from MSU, U-M, Wayne State and LSSU examine economic, environmental issues
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. _ Researchers from Michigan’s three universities that make up the University Research Corridor (URC) joined today with colleagues from Lake Superior State University (LSSU) to hold a roundtable discussion involving state and community leaders, tribal leaders and economic development officials on ways to work together on issues related to maritime trade and the Soo Locks. 

The research conducted at the URC universities Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University as well as at LSSU focuses on maximizing shipping efficiency while minimizing the environmental impacts of commercial shipping on the Great Lakes. The Soo Locks shipping lock complex on the St. Marys River in the Upper Peninsula connects Lake Superior to the lower Great Lakes and is the world’s busiest. It handles more than 80 million tons of cargo annually and is a vital component of the Great Lakes Navigation System.

URC experts, including Jennifer Read, Water Center director at the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute, met today at the Crow’s Nest on LSSU’s campus with LSSU President Rodney Hanley, Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Tony Bosbous, Tribal Chairman Aaron Payment of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning & Development Commission CEO Jeff Hagen, Chippewa County Economic Development Corp. President Chris Olson, Sault Ste. Marie City Commissioner Don Gerrie and Larry Karnes, transportation planning manager with the Michigan Department of Transportation. The discussion focused on the urgent need for a new lock ― congressional funding to build it is slowly being approved ― as well as ways that maritime trade on the Great Lakes can become more efficient and environmentally friendly.

“Michigan has a unique resource in the Soo Locks, which are the critical transit point for most of the mid-continent’s trade in stone, wheat, iron ore and coal,” said Britany Affolter-Caine, URC executive director. Researchers at URC universities are laser-focused on helping the maritime trade industry find the most efficient way to transport goods through this vital water link while at the same time protecting the Great Lakes ecosystem. And they are eager to share what they know with policymakers, business and community leaders and the public.

An alliance of Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, the URC is focused on increasing economic prosperity and connecting Michigan to the world. Over the past five years alone, the URC institutions conducted $1.64 billion in infrastructure-related research and development, with some of that aimed at dealing with Great Lakes issues.

Kevin Kapuscinski, assistant director of research at LSSU’s Center for Freshwater Research and Education, has spent his career studying fish populations in the Great Lakes and how best to manage them.

“The Great Lakes system is a unique freshwater resource, providing drinking water and supporting commercial fisheries, shipping, tourism, and recreational activities such as fishing,” he said. We need to balance the commercial aspects with mitigation of environmental effects to ensure that both our economies and ecosystems are able to thrive. Here at LSSU, we appreciate the vital work the URC universities are doing to find and share solutions to these challenges.

Read, who has more than 20 years’ experience developing and implementing restoration-related programs in the Great Lakes region shared by the United States and Canada, discussed ways to come up with the innovations and spending decisions that will both improve maritime trade while also protecting and restoring the Great Lakes.

“Of the Great Lakes states and province of Ontario, Michigan has the deepest affinity for the lakes,” she said. “So it’s a natural for the URC universities and our partners, such as Lake Superior State University, to find ways to address maritime transportation challenges that value all the ways the Great Lakes benefit us — economically, ecologically and culturally.”

URC universities are testing best practices and innovations and looking for ways to move these innovations to the marketplace, turning discoveries into solutions, Affolter-Caine said. Researchers also are engaging with communities to share solutions and find other ways to provide resources to those using the Great Lakes.

Tuesday’s roundtable discussion was one of six stops in the URC’s Infrastructure Innovation Tour that kicked off last fall and will wrap up this summer. A roundtable discussion at Monroe City Hall last October focused on water infrastructure, while one in November at Sanilac Career Center in Peck focused on rural broadband access. An April 8 session in Sterling Heights focused on the best methods to fix roads and bridges and another held April 29 in Kalamazoo focused on remediating PFAS contamination.

The next stop will take place on Tuesday, June 25, with a wrap-up forum focused on all five areas of infrastructure discussed during the Infrastructure Innovation Tour. The forum will take place at Wayne State University’s Integrated Biosciences Center in Detroit.

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