Major Plans on both sides of the St. Mary’s River

Sault Michigan Mayor Don Gerrie/Shoemaker

City Council and the Sault Michigan Commission held their annual joint  meeting Monday night, with the governing bodies of the twin Saults looking to share information and build on their cooperative relationship. 

Sault Mayor Matthew Shoemaker welcomed Sault Michigan Mayor Don Gerrie councillors and other city officials to the Canadian Sault.

“We are extremely pleased to have you here,” Shoemaker told the group. “We welcome you to our international city, one city across two nations as we like to say. It is an important relationship, a historically important relationship and one that we are eager to continue to build on.”

Both sides shared updates on current projects, some underway and some in the planning and development stages.

City Tourism Director Travis Anderson wowed the Michigan contingent with his presentation of the City’s developing 20-year Waterfront Design Plan, which Anderson says is driven by economic development and tourism.

“We recognize the need to attract more visitors to the area and keep them here longer,” said Anderson. “The investments that we’ll hopefully be making in the waterfront will take us a long way to getting there.”

The overall design area, says Anderson, stretches from the Canal District to the site of the former hospitals. The core area of the plan extends from the Bondar to Pavilion to Clergue Park, land of which Anderson says the city has the greatest control.

An overarching walkway and promenade, cantilevered outlooks, greening the area, a large destination play space, additional access to water for kayakers, more retail offerings and a proposed floating river pool, an idea with its roots in  Copenhagen, Denmark are key components and concepts.

The plan also looks to make the City Hall property more “inclusive and welcoming, where people spend some more time and can get right down to the water,” says Anderson, with proper space to accommodate for fishing.

“There’s lots of good fishing right off City Hall,” said Anderson.

Two public information sessions garnered 900 and 800 responses, respectively, numbers which are “exceptional,” said Anderson.

The next step, he says is drafting a final conceptual design which should be completed this summer.

The biggest project in the Michigan Sault – and one of the largest in the US – continues to be the $3 billion Soo Locks Project.

Rachel Miller, Supervisory Civil Engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was in attendance and provided a status report in the locks project. Miller is the on site each day as the federal government’s representative overseeing execution of the contract.

Miller told the gathering the old Sabin lock is being replaced with a new, larger lock, equivalent in size to the existing Poe lock, which is 1,200 feet long, 110 feet wide with a depth of 32 feet. 

Phase 1, completed in August 2002, involved keeping the channel.

The three-phase, 10-year project is nearing completion of Phase 2, which involves construction of the upstream approach walls. Miller reports Phase 2 will wrap up this summer.

Phase 3, which will take roughly seven years, is the construction of the new lock and the contract has been awarded to Kokosing Alberici Traylor, headquartered in Westerville, OH.

“The jackhammering isn’t going away anytime, soon,” said Miller, “but that’s how you get rid of concrete.”

Miller says both the Sabin and Davis locks have been de-watered, which “creates a dry work environment. It’s a huge opportunity for Kokosing Alberici Traylor to really get some work done this summer.”

Sault Michigan Mayor Don Gerrie says the Son Locks Project is “an amazing-sized project. It’s really amazing, the depth of the project. If you go over the bridge and look down, you see they (workers) really have their own city there.  They have cement factory and trucks and buses. It’s really an amazing project to see.”

Sault Michigan City Manager Brian Chapman updated both councils on a number of other Michigan Sault projects, including a $35 million Water Water Treatment Plant. Chapman says cost of the project is half loan and half grant through the state of Michigan, adding the last major refry of the WWTP was in 1986.

Chapman said the Fourth Avenue Water Tower will be painted with a mural added. 

Rotary Park will have a pavilion and restrooms installed and upgrades are planned for the I-500 track. Numerous street and sideways improvements are also scheduled.

Both Mayors are keenly focused on their respective waterfronts.

“I think it shows the importance of the joint asset that we share custody over if I can put it that way,” says Shoemaker. “We have, for years, had neighbours across the river and we want to bring the population to the river’s edge and celebrate that we are joint cities that are a tourism draw, and one dollar spent in the US benefits the Sault Canadian side and one dollar spent in Sault, Ontario benefits Michigan as well.”

“We have a gorgeous waterfront,” said Sault Michigan Mayor Gerrie. “It’s a productive working waterfront. We really envy what Sault Ste. Marie Ontario has had as far as the walkway that runs from Bellevue (Park) down to the Mall area. I know that in talking to some of my friends over here you’ve always envied what we have on our side.

I think it’s great that both communities are doing what they can to capitalize on that real estate,” Gerrie continued. “We wish we had more real estate on our side that was owned by the government so that we could develop it but a lot of our waterfront is commercial in nature.”

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