Focus, Lakeshore, and Sustainability

Ludington carferry invests in new technology

The SS Badger owners face stiff penalties from EPA if coal ash is dumped overboard after 2014.

April 18, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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SS Badger
When the S.S. Badger sets sail this spring, it will do so with new combustion control technology that keeps coal ash from being dumped in Lake Michigan. Courtesy Lake Michigan Carferry

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Lake Michigan Carferry Inc., owners of the S.S. Badger in Ludington, have announced that installation of the first phase of a new combustion control technology will be completed before the start of the 2014 sailing season May 16.

The work is part of what the company calls a new “multimillion-dollar ash retention system” being installed aboard the Badger in compliance with an EPA consent decree that prohibits the historic vessel from dumping any more of its coal ash overboard after the conclusion of the 2014 season.

The 410-foot Badger, which has been crossing Lake Michigan from Ludington to Wisconsin ports since 1953, is the last coal-fired, steam-powered commercial vessel on the Great Lakes. It is the largest carferry ever to operate on the Great Lakes, with a capacity of 600 passengers and up to 180 vehicles, including semi-trucks, automobiles, tour buses, RVs, motorcycles and commercial trucks. Originally it also carried railroad freight cars.

Since 2008, the EPA has been pressuring Lake Michigan Carferry to stop dumping the Badger coal ash overboard in Lake Michigan.

As noted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in its ongoing coverage of the Badger situation, the boat has been criticized by environmentalists but defended by nautical history enthusiasts, plus others who see it as a valuable part of the economies of Ludington and Manitowoc, Wis. The Badger runs across Lake Michigan twice daily between the two cities during the sailing season, which starts in the spring and ends in the fall, and employs scores of people in both cities.

Supporters of the Badger have claimed the coal ash has an almost immeasurable impact on Lake Michigan’s water quality, but technically the dumping is in violation of environmental protection laws.

The Badger is a registered historic site in both Wisconsin and Michigan, and its steam propulsion system was designated a mechanical engineering landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

A persistent critic of the Badger is U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who has accused it of allegedly polluting the lake. Another active foe is Sheldon B. Lubar, owner of the Lake Express high-speed ferry that crosses Lake Michigan from Muskegon to Milwaukee. The Journal Sentinel reported that Lubar wrote to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in 2012, complaining because Walker supported an extension of a temporary EPA permit allowing the boat to continue dumping coal ash in the lake.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga of Michigan have attempted, without success, to enact legislative solutions that would allow the Badger to continue operating.

Lake Michigan Carferry said the “sophisticated combustion control system” installed this winter is the first phase of a multimillion-dollar ash retention system. The second phase will be completed next winter.

“This technology has never been executed on a coal-fired steam ship. The new combustion system will allow the ship to be more efficient — burning less coal and generating less ash,” said Chuck Leonard, vice president of navigation for LMC.

“Researching, designing and implementing new combustion controls is an involved process. Removing the old equipment and installing the new in the course of our brief offseason while continuing the cycle of maintenance to the machinery, hull and appearance of a ship is a major challenge,” said Charles Cart, chief engineer. “Accomplishing all of this over an unusually hard winter demonstrates the high level of personal dedication and community involvement typical of our crew and supporting contractors here in Ludington.”

A spokesperson for the Badger declined a request for an interview with company officials.

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