For decades, tourists have enjoyed trips on the quaint S.S. Badger as it ferried them and their cars across Lake Michigan, but in recent years critics have demanded the 62-year-old ship be mothballed permanently because it dumped tons of ash from its coal-fired boilers into Lake Michigan.
So it’s good news for motorists this new summer season that the S.S. Badger is still sailing, but with a $2.4 million system that captures the coal ash, keeping it out of the lake. It’s a lesson that even the thorniest issues can be resolved through compromise.
The Badger is America’s only remaining coal-burning ship and the largest car ferry to ever sail Lake Michigan. It is designated as a mechanical engineering landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and listed as a historic site in both Wisconsin and Michigan. But environmentalists and the U.S. EPA weren’t happy with the million pounds of coal ash she jettisoned into the lake in a single season.
The new system will store all that ash on board as the Badger cruises between Manitowoc, Wis., and Ludington, Mich. In port, the ash will be moved to land and possibly sold to be used in making cement. New combustion controls will reduce the amount of coal the Badger burns by 15 percent.
It wasn’t easy to get to this point. We urged patience with the Badger’s owners, but they missed deadlines and appeared to drag their feet. But in the end, we all got the right result: a cleaner lake and the sight of vacationers enjoying a light breeze on the top deck as the S.S. Badger cruises the lake.