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Frequently Asked Questions

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Nothing has changed in a long-term sense. High and low water cycles on Lake Huron and the resulting re-emergence of vegetation is a long established and cyclical occurrence on Saginaw Bay.

Discussion: We know from geological evidence and more recent record keeping that the water levels of Saginaw Bay fluctuate widely and continually. The wetland plant communities of Saginaw Bay evolved under these conditions of constantly changing water levels. Saginaw Bay's persistent emergent wetland vegetation displays a cyclical pattern of growth that reflects changing water levels. For the past 30 years or so, the Great Lakes have been at very high levels. The high water continually inundated near-shore portions of Saginaw Bay and gradually thinned out the above-water portions of vast beds of bulrushes and cattails in the 1970s. Since 1998, the water levels of the Great Lakes dropped significantly. The current low-water conditions are responsible for changing formerly open-water areas along Saginaw Bay's shoreline into a mosaic of exposed sand and mud flats and shallow water areas. The plants that were unable to germinate during the many years of inundation are rapidly sprouting and growing in these flats and shallow water areas. Low-water conditions have allowed for the reemergence of vegetated marshes along much of Saginaw Bay's shoreline.

Since the last low-water period, environmental laws such as the 1977 Clean Water Act have been enacted requiring a Department of the Army permit for all discharges in navigable waters of the United States and their adjacent wetlands. Prior to enactment of these laws, individuals, as well as municipalities, freely and frequently maintained swimming areas by clearing away vegetation and muck .

Employment information can be found on our Careers page. You can also view other federal job announcements at http://www.usajobs.gov.


Due to Department of Defense regulations, boat schedules can not be published on our site. However, a schedule is posted daily at the Soo Locks Visitor's Center. You can also call (906) 253-9290 to listen to the day's schedule or go to www.boatnerd.com.
Initially, the area where the Soo Locks are now located was called the St. Marys Falls Ship Canal at Sault Ste. Marie prior to the first lock being built. The first lock, known as the State Lock, opened to traffic in 1853. It was known as the State Lock at Sault Ste. Marie. In 1881 the second lock, the Weitzel Lock opened. Around this time is when the "locks" were given over to the federal government.  In all the historical references, the locks didn't seem to be grouped together in a single name until after the second lock was built and the federal government took over. In the historical references, the title, "Soo Locks" didn't seem to appear until the very late 1800s. During this time the name "Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie" seems to be the kick off. A historical reference found indicated that "Soo" was the commonly accepted spelling of the locks themselves, however, the location name always had the correct spelling of "Sault Ste. Marie."

Very sandy shorelines are dynamic environmental systems that are in a constant state of change due to the actions of wind and water. Some areas may have wetlands during one visit, and on the next may have none, or the opposite may be true as well.

In areas lakeward of the ordinary high water mark (OHWM), it is the OHWM that forms the juridiction limit for the Corps. In areas landward of that OHWM, the Corps of Engineers uses the 1987 Federal Wetlands Delineation Manual as a guideline for determining/delineating all types of wetlands. When an area contains the three characteristics required by the Manual to be a wetland, our inspectors make the appropriate call. Wetlands associated with sand shorelines and dune systems are often transitional, some lasting only a short time. This is a result of the movement of sand by both wind and wave energy. In many areas along the Great Lakes shorelines, a beach dune will form running parallel and adjacent to the water's edge. A swale, or low-lying area, is often associated with the dune forming landward of the water's edge. Depending on the number and magnitude of storms, a wetland may or may not form in this swale. If the storms are few and far between and relatively minor, it is likely a wetland would form; however, a strong storm could quickly change the landscape features by eroding the dune completely or moving the dune further landward. Either of these actions could result in the elimination of the swale wetland and be cause for the situation referred to in the question. When we do have an opportunity to review an application to work in such areas, we do our best to consider the relative stability of a wetland and the functions it provides.

The following are the fill and empty times for the Mac and Poe Locks, the fill time is how long to raise a boat and the empty time is how long to lower a boat.

  • MacArthur Lock (or 1st Lock)
    Filling Time: 8 minutes
    Emptying Time: 7 minutes
  • Poe  Lock (or 2nd Lock)
    Filling Time: 12 minutes
    Emptying Time: 10 minutes
A montly average of about 400 cubic-feet per-second passes through the locks. This number varies on the number of lockages. In addition, the monthly average of 3,000 cubic-feet per-second passes through the gates at the Compensating Works. This number depends on the current water levels of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan-Huron.
Call 1-800-USA-Army or visit the Web site: http://www.goarmy.com
Such a book exists; however, it is not a publication provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. You may want to check with your local library or book seller. Thank you. For other information, you can log onto the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters Web site: http://www.usace.army.mil
The commercial shipping season is traditionally closed each year from Jan. 15 until March 25.
Entry into the Soo Locks Visitor Center is free.

Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 requires approval prior to the accomplishment of any work or placement of any structure in navigable waters of the United States, or which affects the course, location or condition of such waters with respect to navigable capacity. Typical activities requiring Section 10 permits are:

Construction of piers, wharves, bulkheads, dolphins, marinas, ramps, floats intake structures, and cable or pipeline crossings.

Dredging and excavation.

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act requires approval prior to discharging dredged or fill material into the waters of the United States. Typical activities requiring Section 404 permits are:

Depositing of fill or dredged material in waters of the U.S. or adjacent wetlands;

Site development fill for residential, commercial, or recreational developments;

Construction of revetments, groins, breakwaters, levees, dams, dikes, and weirs;

Placement of riprap and road fills.

Click here for the Section 10 language.

Click here for Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

If a recreation boat requests transit through the Soo Locks for an upbound or downbound passage and if they have a marine radio on board they can call the Chief Lockmaster on Channel 14, 156.700Mhz. The call sign for the Chief Lockmaster is WUE 21. The lockmaster will then dispatch the vessel into a lock.

If a recreation boat does not have a marine radio on board, there is an intercom system on the East Center and West Center piers with a complete list of instuctions on how to contact the Chief Lockmaster for a lock transit either upbound or downbound.  The intercom on the piers is a push button system that goes directly to the Chief Lockmaster.  The lockmaster will then assign the pleasure craft to a lock.

Pleasure craft wishing to transit the Soo Locks must have a propulsion motor.  Personal Water Craft are not allowed to transit the locks.

There is no charge for any vessels, whether they are commercial ships or pleasure craft to transit the locks.

The length of time it takes to transit the locks will depend on the amount of traffic using the locks at a particular time.

The Corps and MDEQ have jurisdiction over work and discharges of dredged or fill material waterward of their respective Ordinary High Water Marks. The Corps authorities are found in regulations pertaining to Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
Generally speaking the maintenance that we concentrate on during the non-navigation season is work which would require taking a lock out of service such as working on areas which would normally be underwater and taking operating equipment out of service for rebuilding.  During the operating season we do everything in our power to keep from having a loss of service or performing maintenance which would interfere with vessel traffic.  Work during the last week of February will most likely include sand blasting and painting, repairs to Mac Lock operating machinery (bearings, gears, gate anchorage), and finishing work on Poe lock hydraulic operating equipment.  It is possible that we would be installing a replacement miter gate actuator at that time as well.
The Corps of Engineers Regulatory Program is designed to protect people, as well as water and land resources.

It is becoming increasingly important that we protect the quality of our inland waters and wetlands for the use and benefit of future generations.

If you are planning work in a lake, river, stream, or wetland, a Corps permit may be required.

The program provides for the consideration of all concerns of the public - environmental, social, and economic - in the Corps' decision-making process to either issue or deny permits. As part of its responsibility to protect water quality, the Corps of Engineers Section 404 permit program extends to many areas that were not regulated prior to the Clean Water Act.

The purpose of the Section 404 program is to insure that the physical, biological, and chemical quality of our nation's water is protected from irresponsible and unregulated discharges of dredged or fill material that could permanently alter or destroy these valuable resources.
The Soo Locks hosts Engineer's Day each year on the last Friday of June.
Zebra mussels, CSO discharges and farm field runoff may play some part in algae blooms noted in the open waters of the Bay and Lake Huron, but they have little to no impact upon emergent shoreline vegetation which naturally re-emerges during low water periods.

Discussion: Since the enactment of the Clean Water Act, nearly 1 billion dollars has been spent on municipal sewage treatment upgrades in the Saginaw area. Algae growth in Inner Saginaw Bay and in Lake Huron in general, is phosphorus-limited. While total phosphorus concentrations have been cut by half from the levels in the early 1970s, phosphorus levels have been fairly stable since the early 1990s and are still at levels that allow nuisance algae blooms to occur in the Inner Bay. Studies have shown that zebra mussels are allowing for more rapid cycling of phosphorus in waters of the Bay, but a 2001 monitoring report to the MDEQ stated that there is no evidence of any recent trend either for the better or worse in total phosphorus concentration in Inner Saginaw Bay. Since water quality has actually improved since the last extended period of low water (1962-1966), and vegetation along the shoreline has appeared in each of the last two low water cycles on Lake Huron, there is no evidence that recent water pollution events caused the rooted vegetation now being seen along the shoreline
Such "green muck" is likely to be algae growth. Such algae "mats" may be picked up from your shoreline without a permit if done by non-mechanical means (i.e. by hand or hand tools)

Discussion: Deposits of green material at the water’s edge contain algae being produced in excessive amounts in the open water of Inner Saginaw Bay and by growth on top of the exposed sediments. Algal growth is directly related to phosphorus content of the water. Sources of phosphorus include sewage discharges, stormwater, and agricultural and lawn fertilizers. A great deal of work has been done to reduce point sources of phosphorus from sewage plants. Also, Federal and State agricultural agencies have worked with farmers since the 1980s to change tillage and fertilizing practices While there is less phosphorus in the Bay today than in the 1970s, as part of the Michigan Phosphorus Reduction Plan, the goal of preventing algal blooms has not yet been met. The responsibilities of the Corps of Engineers do not include cleaning beaches. However, picking up mats of algae can be accomplished without a permit so long as sediments are not mechanically moved (such as with plowing or burying), and the material is removed to a non-wetland area above the Ordinary High Water Mark.
The legislative origins of the Regulatory program are the Rivers and Harbors Acts of 1890 (superseded) and 1899 (33 U.S.C. 401, et seq.). Various sections establish permit requirements to prevent unauthorized obstruction or alteration of any navigable water of the United States. The most frequently exercised authority is contained in Section 10 (33 U.S.C. 403) which covers construction, excavation, or deposition of materials in, over, or under such waters, or any work which would affect the course, location, condition, or capacity of those waters. The authority is granted to the District Engineer through the Secretary of the Army. The original focus was on navigational interests only, however, public interest factors were added in a series of legislation starting in 1933. In 1972, amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act added what is commonly called Section 404 authority (33 U.S.C. 1344) added a focus on the environment to the program. The Secretary of the Army, acting through the Chief of Engineers, is authorized to issue permits for the discharge of dredged and/or fill material into waters of the United States at specified disposal sites. Selection of such sites must be in accordance with guidelines developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in conjunction with the Secretary of the Army; these guidelines are known as the 404(b)(1) Guidelines. The Federal Water Pollution Control Act was further amended in 1977 and given the common name of "[The] Clean Water Act" and was again amended in 1987 to modify criminal and civil penalty provisions and to add an administrative penalty provision.
The purpose of the Section 404 Program, as it has come to be called, is to insure the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the United States. If you are planning work in a lake, river, stream, or wetland, a Corps permit may be required prior to the start of the proposed work.
Public beaches provide greater recreational opportunities and economic benefits to the general public than private shorelines that are generally "off limits" to anyone other than the riparian property owner. Therefore, pubilc beaches usually receive greater weight in the public benefit vs environmental harm analysis that we must conduct under the permit review process.

Discussion: When reviewing a permit application for work waterward of the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM) on navigable waters on the United States and wetlands adjacent to those waters, we must consider not only the potential individual impacts of a project on the subject parcel, but its potential cumulative impacts on the waterway, as well. We must take into consideration a project's benefits and detriments on a myriad of public interest factors, including, but not limited to, impacts on water quality, erosion protection, economics, aquatic and terrestrial wildlife habitat, and recreation. Public beaches afford major recreational and economic benefits, including tourism. We cannot ascribe similar benefits to private shorelines that prohibit trespassing. It is clearly less harmful to the environment to limit impacts to a few public beach locations as opposed to allowing thousands of acres of wetlands to be degraded or destroyed.
Removing debris such as tires, logs, and bottles from bottomland areas does not require Corps authorization as long as such work is conducted without the above-noted discharges. Mowing vegetation does not require a Corps permit as long as the mowing does not physically disturb the bottomland substrate or soils. In addition, driving a vehicle such as a car or off-road vehicle through wetlands does not require a permit, as long as the vehicle is being used in a manner which it was designed (e.g. driving, recreation, etc.). Pulling vegetation by hand, hand shoveling and burying organic debris or dead fish in a shovel-dug trench or pit, and hand raking vegetation are examples of work that are outside of the Corps jurisdiction as they typically do not involve discharges of material. Building sand castles or any similar recreational activity is not considered "work" as defined in our regulations, and therefore, a permit is not required.
Any structure or work waterward of the Ordinary High Water Mark of a navigable water of the United States and/or discharge of fill or dredged material in those waters or their adjacent wetlands requires a Department of the Army Permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under authority of Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act

Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 requires approval prior to the commencement of any work or placement of any structure in navigable waters of the United States, or which affects the course, location or condition of such waters with respect to navigable capacity. Typical activities requiring Section 10 permits include: Construction of piers, wharves, bulkheads, dolphins, marinas, ramps, floats, intake structures; and cable or pipeline crossings; dredging and excavation. (Click here for the Section 10 language.)

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act requires approval prior to discharging dredged or fill material into the waters of the United States. Typical activities requiring Section 404 permits include: Dumping of fill or dredged material in waters of the U.S. or adjacent wetlands; site fill for residential, commercial, or recreational developments; construction of revetments, groins, breakwaters, levees, dams, dikes, and weirs; placement of riprap and road fills. (Click here for Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.)

Vegetation control methods that involve the redeposit of bottom materials incidental to mechanized landclearing and land leveling on Great Lakes bottomlands--such as plowing, discing, grading, raking, and/or dragging--constitute discharges of dredged material under the Corps' Section 404 jurisdiction and as work under Section 10 jurisdiction. A Corps permit is required for any activity involving discharges of dredged material or work as described above.
The Corps of Engineers Regulatory Office issues several different types of permits within two categories of permits. General permits and Individual permits. General permits are blanket permits, which allow a class of activities which the Corps has determined will cause only minimal adverse environmental impacts when performed separately and will have only a minimal adverse cumulative effect on the environment. Individual permits are typically for larger projects and involve a more in-depth review.

General permits can be broken down into two types of permits: Nationwide and Regional. Nationwide permits are developed by the Corps of Engineers out of our Headquarters in Washington D.C. with the input of all the Corps Districts across the U.S. as well as federal and state agencies. (Nationwide permits can be viewed here.

Regional Permits are developed by the Detroit District in cooperation with MDEQ and are specific to Michigan. (A public notice for the Michigan Regional permits can be viewed here.

General permit verification letters normally take from two to three weeks to issue, assuming the project is straightforward, i.e., no wetlands, no contaminated sediments, no threatened or endangered species, no controversy, etc. When a project does not meet the conditions of a general permit, it will likely be reviewed for an Individual permit.

There are two types of Individual permits, as well. Standard permits and Letters of Permission. Letters of Permission require coordination with other federal and state agencies and other interested parties, such as adjacent property owners. A Letter of Permission could be issued in as little as 30 days from the receipt of a complete application. Standard permits are typically for large projects or projects which are controversial, involve wetlands, involve threatened and/or endangered species, etc. This process involves the printing of a public notice for public comment and is usually sent to several hundred individuals. The project undergoes an intense review by the Corps project manager and considers over 20 public interest review factors. This type of permit usually takes 60-120 days to process. (Examples of current public notices can be seen here.
The Soo Locks traditionally open each year on March 25 for the beginning of the commercial shipping season.
U.S. and Canadian iron ore producers, steel producers, farmers, consumers of electricity, consumers of overseas products, and producers of products for export overseas.
Any person, firm, or agency (including Federal, state, and local government agencies) planning to work in navigable waters of the United States, or dump or place dredged or fill material in waters of the United States, must first obtain a permit from the Corps of Engineers. Permits, licenses, variances, or similar authorization may also be required by other Federal, state and local statutes.
The term "beach maintenance" can mean many things to many people. The Corps needs to know the specific location of the proposed activity, as well as the natural site conditions and type of equipment that would be used prior to making a determination as to whether a permit would be needed.