Soo Locks heading into winter maintenance

What's happening: The Soo Locks are changing schedules to help facilitate additional maintenance before the end of the year. The MacArthur Lock closed for the season on December 17, but the Poe Lock will remain open until January 15 or the end of the commercial shipping season. The total closure, determined by whatever event happens first, is set by federal law.

What is being fixed: Numerous tainter valves — a radial-arm floodgate necessary to control water flow — will be repaired with additional encoding and programming systems developed. Other more standard maintenance on the piers and preventative maintenance on the mechanical and electrical systems will also occur.  

The annual closure typically gives enough time to conduct necessary maintenance before reopening, but additional work to the MacArthur lock demands a longer working period. The lock as a whole will not need to remove all the water, so the maintenance crews can get a head start on the project.

What they're saying: “The major MacArthur Lock winter maintenance work includes tainter valve repairs and installing encoders,” said Nicholas (Nick) Pettit, maintenance branch chief. “The 800-foot-long MacArthur Lock, built in 1943, is 79 years old; the maintenance period is critical to keeping the lock in operation during the shipping season.”

Shipping on Superior: Shipping stretches back to tribal populations and fur traders in precolonial ages; modern-day shipping is made possible by the Soo Locks. Creating a way for larger ships to shift between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, the locks see 7,000-10,000 ships a year. The majority of those ships carry cargo like iron ore, coal, wheat and limestone to and from the Upper Peninsula, Ontario, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Ice breaking starts: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter SPAR is assigned to manage the ice breaking needs of Western Lake Superior, specifically the twin ports of Duluth, Minn. and Superior, Wisc.. The push is part of the annual Operation Taconite, which is the Coast Guard’s largest domestic icebreaking operation. The operation encompasses Lake Superior, St. Marys River, the Straits of Mackinac, Georgian Bay, and all of Lake Michigan. The operation has started earlier than usual due to the buildup of ice in Western Lake Superior.