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Posted 6/8/2017

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By Emily Schaefer, public affairs specialist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District

They call it winter work. More than 70 people are fielded, in subzero temperatures and 13 feet of snow, to undertake major repairs, inspections and preventative maintenance projects at the Soo Locks. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, uses the navigation season downtime to perform maintenance on the lock structures and canals. It is during these scheduled 10-week periods, that crews at the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. tackle the projects that cannot be done while the locks are in operation.

"Operating and maintaining the Soo Locks is critical to supporting industry, especially the North American Integrated Steel Mills as 100 percent of the iron ore mined in the United States passes through the Soo,” said Kevin Sprague, area engineer, Soo Area Office, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District. “Our crews work hard throughout the cold winter months to complete all of the winter maintenance projects and ensure that vessel traffic can resume as scheduled in March."

Every year, the Soo Locks close on January 15 and reopen on March 25. There are two operating locks at the Soo: the 74-year-old MacArthur Lock and the 49-year-old Poe Lock. As part of its navigation mission, the Detroit District has operated and maintained these locks since 1881. The locks assist ships in navigating the 21 foot drop at the St. Marys Falls on the St. Marys River, which allows passage between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.

One of the most significant projects that took place during 2017 winter work was the replacement of the embedded gate anchorages on the Poe Lock. This project involved removal of existing original embedded anchorages on the Poe Lock and installing new embedded anchorages.

“This project required heavy coordination, insight from other branches, and overall support,” said Keith Kropfreiter, project engineer and contracting officer’s representative, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District. “This project could not have been as successful without the support of the project delivery team and the contractor, Morrish-Wallace Construction Inc. (dba Ryba Marine Construction Company).  Both Poe Lock gates one and three were operational on February 17 ahead of the March 25 scheduled opening date.”

The embedded gate anchorages hold each gate leaf in place and transfer its weight to the adjacent concrete lock wall. Each gate leaf is secured by a primary and secondary embedded anchorage. The project required fabrication of new steel anchorage frames, drilling of concrete cores and installation of anchor rods to accommodate the new anchorage frames,  installation of new anchorage frames, new concrete placement, disassembly and re-assembly of gate linkage assemblies, and placement of a 1,050 foot long concrete access road. A total of eight anchorage frames ensuring the stability of four gate leafs were completed to ensure the Poe Lock was operational prior to the start of the 2017 shipping season.

Other major winter work projects involved sandblasting, structural repairs and painting of the MacArthur Lock stop logs, as well as dewatering bulkheads and installation of a modern electric operating system controlling the operation of gates and valves on the Poe Lock. Several other smaller projects included:

  • 24-hour watch on the Poe Lock to maintain the correct pool elevation in the lock chamber to keep the gates stable during the Poe Lock embedded anchorage replacement project. Maintaining the pool elevation was a critical part of the project to keep the gates in miter and stable, since the only thing holding the gates in place was the pressure from the water level differential between the upstream and downstream sides of the gate until the new anchorages and existing linkage assemblies were installed.

  • Replacing the windows on two MacArthur Lock Operating Shelters.

  • Replacing three MacArthur Lock bevel gears.

  • Installing a new, concrete service drive parallel to and north of the MacArthur Lock.

  • Completing major repairs to the interior of the Davis Building, this included electrical work and repair of surfaces.

Following a successful winter work season, the 2017 navigation season began at midnight on Saturday, March 25, right on schedule. More than 4,000 vessels carrying over 70 million tons of commercial commodities are carried through the Soo Locks annually, during the shipping seasons. Iron ore, coal, wheat and limestone are among the most frequently carried commodities.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will host a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, June 30, 2017 to celebrate the completion of the Poe Lock Embedded Gate Anchorage Replacement project at the Soo Locks.