SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. (WJMN/WOOD) — Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist was in Sault Ste. Marie Monday to visit the construction site for a new lock at the Soo and Lake Superior State University.

The Soo Locks are a key North American shipping channel, with more than 7,000 vessels passing through each year. But there is currently only one large lock, named Poe, that can handle the biggest freight vessels. That means a malfunction could cause a major disruption in commerce. The Department of Homeland Security estimated in a 2015 report that a six-month shutdown of the Poe could result in more than a trillion dollars lost for the gross domestic product and said as many as 11 million jobs could be lost due to a lack or shipping of raw materials like iron ore.

The construction of a second large lock will make the Soo more reliable. The project could take seven to 10 years to complete, creating 1,200 jobs during that time.

Visiting the Soo, the lieutenant governor said it took cooperation to secure investment in the new lock.

“The investment in infrastructure, the partnership with our federal partners, with Sen. (Debbie) Stabenow, Sen. (Gary) Peters and our congressional delegation working to get the resources for the locks, really since 1987,” Gilchrist said.

At LSSU, Gilchrist stopped at the Richard and Theresa Barch Center for Freshwater Research and Education to celebrate the college’s announcement that it would create a College of the Great Lakes Ecology and Education.

The center houses research labs and office space for students to study things like the impact of invasive species or how to respond to possible oil spills. It also has a K-12 discovery room where students can touch a sturgeon.

“I’m blown away to see both this space here that is focused on public engagement, education. I’ve met some elementary school students from Cedarville and talked with them about how much fun they’ve had, what they’re learning,’ Gilchrist said. “It’s inspirational, because having that kind of exposure as a young person (means) these will become the undergrads that will come here and study. It’s really beautiful to see something so connected to the state of Michigan.”

Simon Freeman, a research technician at the Center for Fresh Water Research and Education, said the lieutenant governor is excited and passionate about the Great Lakes and its resources.

“CFRE is really going to be leading the charge in our fish and wildlife programs and bringing in that education aspect (of) place-based learning for undergraduate students. At the same time, we’ll also be offering a master’s program for our fish and wildlife students. It’s a great time for (Gilchrist) to come here. He’s super excited. He has a lot of passion for the Great Lakes and the resources we have here,” Freeman said.

Students can enroll in LSSU’s College of the Great Lakes Ecology and Education starting in the fall 2023 semester.