Money from Soo Locks, new Great Lakes icebreaker authorized in defense bill

WASHINGTON, DC — An $858 billion national defense bill President Joe Biden is expected to sign into law this week contains funding authorizations for a new Great Lakes icebreaker and increased spending on the Soo Locks transportation complex. .

The US Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2023 on December 15, sending the defense funding and policy bill to Biden’s desk.

The annual bill, which authorizes but does not allocate defense funds, has received more attention than usual this year because it ends the military mandate for Covid-19 vaccines.

As part of the US Coast Guard’s expanded authorizations, the bill allows $350 million to build a new Great Lakes heavy icebreaker like the Mackinaw cutter that is stationed in Cheboygan. It also requires new reports on the economic impact of ship delays on lakes caused by ice.

Great Lakes shipping interests have long advocated another heavy icebreaker despite historical data showing that total ice cover is in long-term decline.

Icebreaker started on Lake Superior In the past week.

The NDAA also authorizes $3.2 billion for ongoing reconstruction at the Soo Locks transportation complex. That is nearly triple the amount previously authorized for the infrastructure project after inflation and rising labor and material costs. inflated cost estimates this year.

Over the next six years, the US Army Corps of Engineers is reconfiguring the inactive Davis and Sabin Locks into a single large chamber similar to the existing Poe Lock, which is the only lock large enough to move ships largest of the Great Lakes.

A second lock the size of Poe will ensure that ore from the Minnesota iron range can still reach steel mills in the lower Great Lakes in the event the lock closes unexpectedly.

Over the past two years, the Army Corps has been deepening the access channels leading to the new lock chamber and reinforcing the walls of the existing channels. The third phase of construction, which involves the demolition of Sabin Lock and the construction of the new lock chamber, is scheduled to start this spring.

“This legislation makes essential investments to modernize our water infrastructure, keep our water safe and protect the Great Lakes for future generations,” said Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who chairs the government affairs and homeland security committee. Senate.

The Soo Locks authorization was part of the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA), a biennial infrastructure bill included in the defense bill of 2023.

Included in the WRDA portion was a provision to increase the federal government’s participation in the reconstruction of the Brandon Road Lock & Dam in Joliet, Illinois, to 90 percent.

At Brandon Road, the Army Corps is reinforcing the choke point dam with a series of defenses to prevent invasive bighead and silver carp from advancing through Chicagoland’s waterway system and entering Lake Michigan.

Proponents of the project say the state of Illinois still needs to sign an agreement with the Army Corps this year to keep the project on schedule.

The bill also directs the Army Corps to update an economic impact study for recreational boating on the Great Lakes.

“Congress once again demonstrated its support for improving navigation on the Great Lakes, protecting against invasive species and understanding the economic importance of recreation to our region,” said Erika Jensen, executive director of the Ann Arbor Great Lakes Commission. .

Beyond costly infrastructure projects, the bill also authorizes more funding for the US Coast Guard Great Lakes Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Center of Expertise at the new US Coast Guard research campus. Lake Superior State University on the St. Marys River in Sault Ste. Maria.

Additional provisions in the bill allow the Corps to provide support to the Great Lakes states to prevent future flooding and coastal erosion, and authorize the Corps to expedite a comprehensive study of coastal resilience of the coast.

The bill also requires a new annual report on Great Lakes coastal infrastructure needs.

According to Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s office, the bill increases the authority of Michigan’s statewide Environmental Infrastructure Assistance Program from $35 million to $85 million and expands its eligibility to support new sewer overflow projects, rainwater and drinking water.

Local projects authorized in the bill include $7.2 million for Cascade Township and $40 million for Macomb County wastewater infrastructure improvements.

The feasibility of upgrading a maneuvering basin on the Black River at South Haven would also be studied.

michigan communities hit by floods in recent years it would also receive support. The bill authorizes the Army Corps to work with the metropolitan Detroit and Midland County communities to address flood risks caused by extreme rainfall.

The bill also authorizes the Army Corps to support Grosse Pointe Shores and Grosse Pointe Farms for ecosystem restoration and flood risk identification.

“Michigan knows firsthand how more frequent and severe weather caused by the climate crisis is affecting our coastal communities and our aging infrastructure,” said Stabenow, D-Mich. in a statement last week.

“These investments will address erosion in our coastal areas, prevent damaging flooding in our communities, improve water quality, and stop the spread of invasive carp and other species in our Great Lakes.”

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