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S.S. Badger will keep steaming

8:58 PM, Apr. 4, 2013  |  Comments
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There's still plenty of life left in the S.S. Badger, the historic ferry that steams across Lake Michigan from Manitowoc to Ludington, Mich., from May to October each year.

And hopefully much less pollution coming from the venerable coal-fired steamship, based on a proposed legal settlement announced last week between the ferry's owners and the Environmental Protection Agency.

That's good news on many fronts, not the least of which is that the agreement will first reduce, then eliminate within two years, the dumping of about 500 tons of coal ash each sailing season from the Badger into Lake Michigan.

The EPA and Department of Justice will open a 30-day public comment period about the agreement, then determine the terms that will be finalized with the Lake Michigan Carferry Service, which is touting this season as the 60th anniversary year for the Badger, a 410-foot-long, 7-story-high ferry that hauls about 100,000 passengers and 30,000 vehicles across the mighty lake each season.

The agreement appears to be the end of a long struggle between the ferry owners and various regulators. The EPA in 2008 ordered the company to end the ash dumping, and gave it a four-year window in order to implement technology and other changes to make that possible.

The clock ran out on that plan in December 2012. Rather than shutting down the Badger, the new agreement should pave the way toward a reasonable outcome.

The EPA plan now calls for a reduction of coal ash dumping this season and in 2014, with no discharge of coal ash by the end of the 2014 season. The company also will pay a $25,000 fine for pollution violations in the 2012 season. Badger owners will now be required to change to a new fuel system, such as liquified natural gas, or devise a method to store the coal ash on board by the 2015 sailing season.

The ferry company says the Badger contributes $35 million a year to the Manitowoc and Ludington economies, and Ludington mayor John Henderson said the iconic ship is "a big part of the heart and soul of the community."

The new agreement should allow that heart and soul to keep steaming for years ahead.

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