Save Our Ships: S.S. Badger

By McVicar, Brian | Sea Classics, September 2011 | Go to article overview

Save Our Ships: S.S. Badger


McVicar, Brian, Sea Classics


The Great Lakes' time-honored car-and-passenger ferry SS Badger will soon steam no more unless she's given a reprieve by the Environmental Protection Agency

The SS Badger is considered a cultural icon by many in Ludington, Michigan - a link between the city's tourism-driven economy and its industrial past.

But some residents and civic leaders here fear that a federal rule, which takes effect during the Badger's 2013 season and would prohibit the coal-powered ship from dumping coal ash in Lake Michigan, could end the Badgers 58-yr history in Ludington.

"The Badger is synonymous with Ludington," said Mayor John Henderson. 'To be able to see that piece of history remain here is a must," he said.

The 410-ft Badger w as built by the Christy Corp. of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, as a rail car ferry and put into service 21 March 1953. The ship carried railroad cars, passengers, and autos between Wisconsin and Michigan.

In 1983, the Badger, its sister ship SS Spartan, and City of Midland 41 were sold to Glen Bowden of Ludington, who organized the Micliigan-Wisconsin Transportation Co. By 1988, the Badger was the only car feny running and in 1990, facing bankruptcy, the ship tied up in Ludington, ending ferry service that had been in operation since the late-19th century.

A year later, the Badger was purchased by Charles Conrad, a Holland businessman and Ludington native, who refit and refurbished the Badger to handle passengers and autos. It returned to service on 16 May 1992, between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Business and chic leaders say the Badger, which employees 250 people, is a powerhouse for Ludington's tourism industry, contributing millions of dollars to the local economy. In an attempt to raise awareness about its plight, they've kicked offa campaign called the S.O.S. Badger.

Through fundraising and contacting elected officials, they're attempting to drum up support for the ship. Tshirts and pins bearing the S.O.S. Badger logo are being sold. And a local brewery has brewed a beer in honor of the vessel - Badger Brown.

"It's probably our No. 1 driving economic force in our town," said Brad Reed, a member of the S.O.S. Badger campaign, who along with his father, Todcl, owns a photo studio in downtown Ludington.

"It brings in millions of dollars into our community. If it stopped running, it would be devastating."

For the Badger to continue to operate in 2013, the US Environmental Protection Agency has said the ship must stop dumping coal ash in Lake Michigan by December 2012, a move that could prove costly, company officials said. The EPA regulates vessel discharges.

A representative of the Badger, who met with EPA officials this week, said a "solution is feasible."

"We're investigating a number of solutions," said Lynda Matson, vice president of customer service and marketing for Lake Michigan Carferry, the company that owns the Badger.

"Each alternative is expensive, but we're confident we will find a solution."

One solution is to replace the Badger's coal-fired engine with an engine powered by diesel fuel, a move that would cost as much as $15 million, she said.

Another option, Matson said, is to keep the coal ash onboard, deposit it onshore, and truck it to a clumping area.

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