UnNews:Lock broken at Sault Ste. Marie

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Lock broken at Sault Ste. Marie

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17 August 2015

Soo Locks

A freighter (lower right) speeds away from the MacArthur Lock before he can be accused of being the one that broke it.

SAULT STE. MARIE, Michigan -- Of the two locks that can handle traffic larger than a kayak, one is broken and will force skippers to change their lock-picking for ten days.

Gates in the MacArthur Lock's navigation dock will not close properly. This means that ships will be sent to the nearby Polack for the duration of the outage. The Polack normally handles 70% of barge shipping but will now be asked to take on additional traffic.

It’s unclear how bad things might get, said Glen Nekvasil, the Polack, who is vice president of the Great Lakes Carriers Association. Lynn Rose, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that repair work will require Lake Superior to be emptied of water, presumably to keep the lower Great Lakes from overflowing. She predicts backups of vessels trying to move between Lake Superior and Lake Huron as the Corps tries to identify what is keeping the gates from closing, perhaps a stuck sailboat or surfboarder.

Soo Locks map

The malfunction is especially problematic because the location of the Soo Locks creates a bottleneck for shipping into and out of Lake Superior.

Michigan's Democratic U.S. Senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, have tirelessly called for more money to be spent on a "Sooper Lock," as they claim a prolonged outage would threaten Homeland Security. However, as they have also tirelessly called for more spending on everything else, their voices have gone unheeded; also because, in 2014, voters in other states turned to the Republican Party for the nation's overspending needs.

Rick Burch of the Coast Guard could not forecast how many ships will be affected, because it does not make ships ask permission to pass through the locks, nor evidently count how many do. Likewise, the Federal Emergency Management Agency did not plan for this emergency, and by all accounts is not managing it, although it is inventorying every piece of machinery in the United States, in order to assemble a plan for what to do if it breaks. This will lead to additional tireless calls for more spending.

The Detroit News reported that the "lock closure" (which is in fact a lock non-closure) risked shipping backups. Among the backups that might be shipped might be a backup navigation gate that would achieve closure. However, it cannot be shipped, because the Soo Locks are broken.

An alternative would be for engineers to vacate the navigation dock entirely, call Cyclone Fence about the gate, and operate the controls from the side of the lock. Or get the app for Android. However, this solution neglects the overspending.

Marion Van Luke of Soo Locks Boat Tours, Inc., agreed that the non-closure is unprecedented, except of course for the millennia in which there were no locks on the rapids at all. Although his tour boats can double up with ore freighters, or use the piddling lock on the Canadian side, he is taking the precaution of filing a corporate name change to Circular Boat Tours, Inc., as well as instructing the ship's bartenders to be especially generous.

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