By David Eggert The Associated Press
MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. — Gov. Rick Snyder and legislative leaders on Wednesday committed up to $50 million to upgrade the Soo Locks, a bid to persuade the federal government to fund the long-sought $1 billion proposal to build a second large lock that allows commercial ships to traverse the Great Lakes.
The money is part of an additional $400 million for infrastructure from a surplus that was included in a state budget deal last week. The Republican governor said he would ask other Great Lakes states to also contribute funds because if the U.S. government ultimately helps pay for the project, the Trump administration has indicated it wants 20 per cent to come from non-federal sources and that large-scale projects with such funding would be moved to the top of the priority list.
“Michigan is stepping up now to say, ‘We’re going to put our money where our mouth is,’” Snyder said at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference. “It’s not time to talk about a lock. It’s not time to authorize a lock. It’s time to build a lock.”
He renewed warnings that a prolonged shutdown of an existing lock, which helps moves iron ore mined in Michigan and Minnesota, would cripple the U.S. economy ‚Äî especially North American production of automobiles, office furniture, paints, bottles, cans and other goods.
In 1986, Congress authorized construction of a new lock on the site of two smaller locks. But funding, which could total $900 million to $1 billion, has never come through.
In a visit to Michigan in April, President Donald Trump mentioned wanting to “fix” the Soo Locks, which has buoyed those advocating for the project. He said they are “going to hell,” and he vowed to call the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers ‚Äî which operates the locks ‚Äî though U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said Wednesday that call has not yet been made. The Army Corps is conducting a new cost-benefit study, which is due to be released by the end of June, after members of the state’s congressional delegation faulted a past one for erroneously assuming that iron ore could be transported instead by rail in the event of a lock shutdown.
“I am hopeful that the fact that the president said that … means they’ll be supportive of moving this along as much as we can,” Stabenow said.
In advocating for other states to also commit funding, Snyder pointed to an interstate partnership that was announced earlier this year to help cover the costs of operating a system proposed for a Chicago-area waterway that would help keep invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and the Canadian province of Ontario joined the partnership.
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, the state’s point person on the locks, said the state funding is a “big, game-changing difference.” GOP legislative leaders said they had also agreed with Snyder to commit funding toward Asian carp prevention and to protect twin oil pipelines in a sensitive Great Lakes waterway. Details were unavailable.