Soo Locks to open Lake Superior shipping season early

What's happening: With the unusual warm weather this season, the Soo Locks was able to complete necessary winter maintenance early and will reopen on March 22, officially making it possible for shipping freighters to leave Lake Superior and enter into the rest of the Great Lakes. The St. Lawrence Seaway Authority will also open on March 22, which means the entirety of the Great Lakes shipping corridor — from Gary, Indiana, and Duluth, Minnesota, to the Atlantic Ocean — will be open for business. While weather has always made the start of the season difficult to determine, federal regulations allow the Army Corps of Engineers the ability to determine when the locks can be open safely. 

Economic benefit: The warm winter has been a difficult one for many of the tourism businesses in the Upper Peninsula, but shipping could benefit from the higher temperatures. Multiple construction projects were completed at the locks with ease and kept workers consistently employed. 

Additionally, businesses relying on Great Lakes shipping access are reporting a need for a longer than usual season. Non-essential products used in manufacturing have built up more than usual after the Canadian Seaway workers strike and extreme wind events cut into the end of the 2023 shipping season. 

What they're saying: “We worked hard to accelerate work up-front during our annual closure, with crews working extended days and hours to optimize the short time available for critical maintenance and repairs,” Maintenance Branch Chief Nicholas Pettit said. “Due to the hard work of our maintenance crews and some mild weather, we’ve been able to accomplish all required work ahead of schedule.”  

What's next: While the Soo Locks are ready to go structurally, the area is a large tourism draw for downtown Sault Ste. Marie and has its own park. Preparations will begin to ready the grounds, train any additional staff and get ready for the pomp and circumstance of the first ship to go through the locks this year. The event will be livestreamed on Facebook. 
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