By on March 25, 2013

The Lake Michigan Car Ferry website is reporting that the Environmental Protection Agency and the operators of the Lake Michigan car ferry, the SS Badger, which runs between Ludington MI and Manitowoc, WI, have reached and agreement that will allow the historic steamship to continue operating. The Badger is one of the last coal fired vessels operating commercially on the great lakes and its continued operation means millions of trade and tourist dollars for the region it serves. During the summer months, the 6650 ton vessel makes two round trip crossings per day and can carry 600 passengers and up to 180 automobiles.

The SS Badger’s future was cast into uncertainty when the ship’s permit to dump coal ash into the waters of Lake Michigan, something that was common when the ship was constructed in the early 1950s, expired in December of last year. The current agreement allows the company to continue dumping ash into the lake with a 15% reduction for the next two years while constructing a containment system that must be in place by January 1, 2015. After that date, no more ash can be dumped overboard.

Yours truly made the Ludington to Manitowoc crossing in the summer of 2004 and had a wonderful time. Having spent around 5 years as an engineer on large, oil fired steamships in the Pacific, I was excited when, planning a cross country trip, I discovered the ferry service. Instead of driving south through the maelstrom that is Chicago area traffic, I cut across bucolic upstate Michigan and made a leisurely passage in fine weather. Like many other fans of the SS Badger, I am thrilled that this historic old vessel will continue sailing into the foreseeable future.


Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

39 Comments on “Lake Michigan Car Ferry, SS Badger, and EPA Reach Agreement...”

  • avatar

    There is actually another ferry that runs across Lake Michigan. The Lake Express runs from Milwaukee to Muskegon. The trip’s an hour shorter, but it’s also more expensive.

  • avatar

    How cool! The gf and I love Ludington, we’ve camped out at the state park twice now, and I learned of the Badger on our last trip and now I’m jonesing to take a trip on it. Lovely place. Pristine beaches, good hiking, great little diner in town. To hell with the EPA on this, it’s just a single historic ship! That’s like going after classic cars for emissions (hope I didn’t just inspire some enviro-nut to do just that).

    • 0 avatar

      Uh, it’s been dumping coal ash, which contains many nasty materials like mercury and cadmium… So those “pristine beaches” are being contaminated. Nice to keep a historic ship running, but they shouldn’t be dumping coal ash in the water. I’m glad they are planning to find a better way of disposing it by 2015.

      It seems they are confident they can keep it running without dumping ash, so really this is a case of “why didn’t they do that earlier?”

      Some practices are better left in the past. Lead in gasoline and paint, radium paint, and dumping pollutants untreated into waterways all fit the bill.

      • 0 avatar

        Believe me I’m not some sort of reactionary in terms of emissions standards or pollution control. Fact of the matter is, there were once many ships like this, and now it’s just this one. I seriously doubt it makes any serious difference to the water quality whether or not this single coal powered ship dumps ash or not. “Solution to pollution is dilution” most likely applies in this case.

        Having said that, if the engineering solution to this is not too difficult to implement, then why not?

        • 0 avatar

          While it probably doesn’t effect the overall pollution levels of the lake much, I wouldn’t want to eat a fish that spent time in the immediate vicinity of the dump site. According to the article I read, it dumps 509 tons of ash per year. There are plenty of other fuels that can be used to heat water to produce steam that don’t require dumping toxic waste into the lake.

          • 0 avatar

            The Great Lakes are notorious for the amount of mercury in the fish, this is a politically sensitive issue which hastens the EPA’s involvement.

      • 0 avatar

        Considering that some of mercury’s presence in the water of the Great Lakes is a naturally occurring phenomenon, verified by the presence of mercury in the fish bones found in pre-Columbian archaeological digs, is the ash dumping from a single coal-fired steamer going to significantly increase the level of mercury in the lakes?

        I agree that some practices, like unlimited government, are better left in the past.

        • 0 avatar

          There you go again.

          First off, they seem to think they can maintain service without dumping waste into the water, so I’m just wondering why they didn’t stop earlier. It may be “minor” but the cops don’t give me a pass to dump my garbage in the ocean because “only one person doing it makes no difference”. Keeping pollution and waste contained and to a minimum is just common sense. I’m glad they can keep the ship running while instituting modern pollution control practices.

          I’m still unsure of exactly what your deal is. You want to EPA to go away… But just who is going to keep your air and water from turning into filth again? Or are you totally okay with that? From your comments, it seems your view is “the more pollution, the better – after all, nature is filthy already!”

          If you think there is any meaningful comparison between levels of mercury in the environment before and after the use of coal, you’re crazy. Yeah, some places have mercury in the water – some places have arsenic. That doesn’t give you carte blanch to add as much more as you can.

          The Gulf of Mexico has natural oil seeps. So does that mean the Deepwater Horizon spill was okay? It looks like it does in your book. Not in mine.

          • 0 avatar

            “You want to EPA to go away…”

            Glad to know you have psychic abilities to determine what other people think. I don’t want the EPA to necessarily “go away”, I want it to obey the law. Right now the EPA acts well beyond its statutory and constitutional limits. Of course, that’s not very unusual for this administration.

            Meanwhile, non-union air traffic control towers are being shut down while taxpayers pay for the Obama children to vacation in the Bahamas.

          • 0 avatar

            …and promise millions we don’t have in relief aid to Syria.

          • 0 avatar

            FWIW, I’ve seen far right arguments for getting rid of those air traffic controllers:

            granitegrok dot com/blog/2013/03/shea-porter-promotes-air-traffic-controller-sequester-scare-but-ignores-faa-waste-on-one-percenters

            The “EPA acts well beyond its statutory and constitutional limits” thing is just laughable though…

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    @Thomas Kreutzer
    Great story, I would like to travel on that ferry.

    I do hope the ferry continues on and gives pleasure and create employment.

    Near where my mother lives in South Jersey there is the Cape May to Lewes ferry.

    It’s a diesel powered ferry, but the trip we had was very enjoyable. The trip lasted only a bit over one and a half hours.

    The hull shape on the ferry wasn’t to good in the exposed area of the Delaware Bay, the shallow draught isn’t the best for stability.

    Had a great lunch in Lewes. Then went back to her place.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve been on that Cape May – Lewes ferry twice. It is a beautiful trip but that big boat does pitch around in the middle of Delaware Bay. I started feeling weird so I took a nap and had no further trouble.

  • avatar

    the simple engineering solution back then and now would have been to use oil as fuel. they only keep coal to save money. It isn’t only the ash, also the exhaust is terrible. Unlike modern coal plants those steamships don’t have any scrubbers etc.

    sure it is only one ship, but in today’s cleaner air one ship makes much more a difference. this beast spits out more particulate matter than 100000000 cars.

    I remember the historic steamships on the Elbe river in Germany (by Dresden). they used to be coal, but now all run on oil and you still can see the engine working, but no one has to shovel coal and fumes are better. I’m kind of surprised that ships int eh 1950s still were built for coal.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Most likely that ship was built to burn coal because it is locally abundant and therefore cheap to procure.

      • 0 avatar

        If you are looking for coal mines in Michigan and Wisconsin you won’t have much luck.

        Almost every large ship built 100 years ago was powered by coal; every port already had coal docks and petroleum was just becoming popular as a fuel for cars. Trains and ships were still primarily powered by coal until after WWII.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    I am a third generation rail road engineer and although I only worked on a few Steam Locos(which had been phased out by the time i began work) I knew when a good fireman on a coal burner was doing the job properly. It’s all a matter of combustion. A lot of smoke means things aren’t burning properly and you are not making heat. Not enough heat and you are not making power and losing money.
    Most of the Steam Locos some of my uncles worked on as Drivers were oil fired and had been since the thirties. They could still smoke under full throttle while pulling up a grade but the power increase was amazing. Again,it was all to do with combustion and getting the combustion air/fuel ratio right.
    Although steam works well it’s no where near the efficiency of a diesel Loco motive or Diesel ship . Steam though,increases it’s torque when you add more steam.
    Today,the fly ash from coal combustion is used to make high strength Concrete so it’s not dumped anywhere and the owners of the ship owners will possibly sell it.

    • 0 avatar

      The best combustion is technically a “light brown haze.” Most steamships will run clear because the engineers introduce just a little too much air into the mix in order to hide the emissions.

      The steamships I worked on were pretty efficient and very different from steam locomotives. Ships use very high pressure steam in a closed loop, heating and then condensing the same water over and over, introducing just enough new feed water to replace anything that might get lost through leaky boiler tubes or elsewhere in the process. Steam flows from the steam drum, through a dryer to get out all the water droplets, then into a superheater before being sent to a high pressure steam turbine. From the HP turbine, it goes to a low pressure turbine and then into condenser where it is turned from steam back into water. (Its still very hot water.)

      From the condenser, the water is pumped back up into a feed water tank through a series of pipes in the smoke stack called the “economizer” and then stored prior to being reintroduced into the boiler. The temperature of the feed water and the water in the steam drum is pretty close and once the water gets in there it flows around the boiler until it turns into steam and starts the process over again.

      That’s a quick overview of the steam and water cycle – there are a lot of subsystems, some of it using high pressure steam, some of it low pressure steam, and the whole thing looks hugely complicated. Parts of it are, like feed water chemistry, but most of it is pretty easy to wrap your head around. I loved the work and even though I make a better living now, I miss the work. Too bad the lifestyle required more sacrifices than I was willing to make.

      As for the environmental issues, I also worked on oil tankers. If you think this ferry is dirty, you should see what tankers do when they are at sea…

  • avatar

    This ship was given years to clean up. The cheapo owners however wanted non of that. Now they got another government bailout to let them pollute for 2 more years.

    Anyone want to take a bet, that 2 years from now these guys will still be dumping ash into the lake?

    They’ll just use the same excuses, ‘not enough time’, ‘to expensive’, bla bla bla.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, the “cheapo owners” bought and refurbished the ship after it had been shut down by the former owners because it was no longer profitable. For better or worse if it is too expensive to retrofit the ship to meet the EPA guidelines then the current owners will have to shut it down again.

      Everything has tradeoffs. If the ferry operation is currently marginally profitable (or losing money) it may not make sense to spend more money to meet the new guidelines. Then the 100 +/- employees have no jobs.

      Life is more complicated than just seeing it as good guys vs. bad guys.

      • 0 avatar

        Well stated Toad.

      • 0 avatar

        In this case its not more complicated.

        The current owners were too cheap to upgrade the ship to not pollute.

        They can continue running the ship, they just need to do it in a clean way.

        Just like drafters no longer use pencils and drawing boards. ships no longer use coal.

        • 0 avatar

          “The current owners were too cheap to upgrade the ship to not pollute.”

          You can continue saying that till you are blue in the face. But the fact is, this is a single steamship operating as a tourist attraction; the two remaining steam paddle wheelers on the Mississippi and steam powered tourist trains are the closest examples. All of them offer a historic experience (yeah, like draftsmen with their wooden pencils), and all operate on a slim profit margin.

          It costs FOUR times as much to operate a steamship compared to a diesel motor vessel; that is why all of the steam powered ore and cement carriers have either been converted to diesel or scrapped. The Badger is the last remaining operating steamship on the Great Lakes; and one of few remaining worldwide.

          The most cost effective thing to do is to send the Badger to scrap and buy a new motor vessel. Good on the owners to try and keep her in service; the EPA should recognize her status as a single historic vessel and leave her alone.

  • avatar

    We’ve taken the high-speed catamarans to Catalina Island and back, and that was pretty cool – AND a pretty expensive lunch/afternoon, but worth it. I can only imagine going across Lake Michigan.

    As far as steam/nostalgia is concerned, I prefer modern methods to produce clean power.

    I hate carburetors, too…

    • 0 avatar

      I was born a Philistine and I’ll die a Philistine.

      • 0 avatar

        The Chief Wawatam and all the other lake ferries were cool, and wish I could have sailed on them. I doubt I will ever take passage on the Badger.

        St. Louis once had a art-deco, streamlined Mississippi river excursion steamer called the “Admiral” – it was steam-powered, and I enjoyed it often in the 1960’s growing up. Seeing the gigantic drivers powering the side wheels and getting glimpses of the other machinery below deck was very impressive. The steamoperated calliope was wonderfully and excruciatingly LOUD!

        I’ve ridden behind steam locomotives, though, and nothing matches steam for raw power – the machine literally lives and breathes.

        Please don’t take my comment as hating on the old methods, I just embrace advancement.

        I do still hate carburetors, though!

        • 0 avatar

          The Admiral! Now that was a cool boat, a 1930s futurist’s dream come true. I believe it was demolished for scrap a year or two ago when the owners decided not to make the investment to bring the rusting hull up to Coast Guard standards. A real shame.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      “I can only imagine going across Lake Michigan.”

      I’ve done it on a 30-foot sailboat. It’s great. For about 2/3 of the trip, you cannot see land (I’m on a lake???)

      It took us somewhere between 8 and 10 hours to cross while doing 6 knots, which is a pretty good speed for a small sailboat.

  • avatar

    Let’s face it, coal is on its last legs in America. All new power plants are using nat gas or nukes. I guess it’s too expensive to convert the SS Badger to oil etc. Maybe sails/;)

    • 0 avatar

      Uh, no. Stand by any major railway coming out of the Power River Basin, and watch the trainloads of coal heading as far south as Texas and Louisiana. Then take into consideration the number of mine-mouth coal and lignite plants, and the number is still large.

      They are also base-loaded all the time like nuclear plants. So, they still make up a large part of our generating base.

      The amount of mercury per pound of coal is very small, so the amount actually being released in those tons of coal is also small; then diluted by the lake itself. Much ado about nothing.

      Great to see an article about the old girl here; thanks Thomas.

    • 0 avatar

      Coal isn’t expensive, it’s just too highly regulated, you could get coal down way lower of the current price if it werent’ for the regulations killing the jobs and the plants that use it.

      See your energy costs lately?
      if the gov’t didn’t require that power facilties use dumb techniques like solar for producing a certain percent of energy, and allow facilities to resume using coal, then your energy costs would be practically nothing

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, and if the mean old government didn’t insist on things like scrubbers in coal plants, the costs would be even less. And if cars didn’t have to include government-mandated catalytic converters, they’d be cheaper.

        And…our air would be like Beijing’s. Yay.

        • 0 avatar

          Scrubbers were in use before there was an EPA; Battersea Power Plant in London (and featured on Animals album cover by Pink Floyd) was the first scrubber installation in the 1930s.

          They were installed because Battersea was the first of today’s large central electric generation plants to be built. (It replaced several smaller and less efficient plants.). Back then, the environmental movement was dredging up all kinds of fears about Battersea’s emissions, including claiming they would bleach babies white. So the answer was installing scrubbers.

          They actually made things worst, in that they were wet scrubbers which cooled the exhaust gasses; causing the smoke to sink rather than rise and disperse. It was also prone to rotting out; so it was sometimes operated with the scrubbers off.

          The point is you can’t paint corporations with the same evil brush either; most want to be good stewards as well. And the Badger in no way compares to Battersea; much less a modern large coal fired station. I guess next they will go after steam tourist railways, followed by antique and race cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Badger was something of an anachronism when it was built in the 1950s, most large ships switched to oil fuel after WWI, the Great Lakes was the one place where coal still hung on into the mid 20th century. These days, I suppose the originality of the machinery is a big part of the romantic appeal of the old ship.

      • 0 avatar

        Her engines are an anachronism as well; they are Skinner unaflow engines; they have an enclosed crankcase, and look more like IC engines than say the steam engines aboard the Titanic. They are more efficient, and operate at higher speeds.

        Most of the steamships built in the decades before and after used steam turbines instead.

  • avatar

    Thanx Thomas ;

    I rode on this steamer and enjoyed the trip greatly .

    I hope it continues plying the waters for years to come , for those who’ve not yet done it ~ GO NOW while you still have the chance ! too many great things are gone forever .


  • avatar

    The EPA spews out more crap in an hour that that vessel has in it’s life.
    Steam is remarkably smooth when used in a ship. I took my family on our only cruise on the Badger. We were on the 1:00 Am cruise to Luddington. It was a bit chilly but my then 10 year old daughter and I were outside on the bow and watched shooting stars for some time. Really enjoyed it.
    I much prefeered to be on the Spartan, but that didn’t happen.

  • avatar

    As is often the case in stories like these; follow the money. The Ludington Daily News did; and here is what they published:

    4/26 – A story “Attacking the SS Badger, the Deception of Environmental Activism,” in the most recent edition of Outer Boundary Magazine, a Wisconsin-based family outdoor magazine, details what it concludes to be an effort by Lake Michigan Carferry’s competitor to push the coal ash issue/environmental issue to gain the Milwaukee-based competitor a competitive advantage — not for the good of the environment.

    The lead story by Steve Krueger tries to put in perspective the small amounts of toxins in the coal ash discharged by the SS Badger, but more notably creates a flowchart of how the magazine believes Sheldon Lubar, the founder and chairman of Lubar & Co. which lists Lake Express as its investment, hired both a Michigan lobbying firm and a national lobbying firm to foment opposition to the Ludington ferry based on exaggerated environmental claims.

    The magazine links Sen. Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat and the U.S. Senate majority leader who has been notably outspoken about the Badger’s coal ash, with the Lake Express’s national lobbyist, Broydrick & Associates. The magazine times at least one of Durbin’s seven-minute Senate floor bashings to having occurred just days after a Dec. 12, 2012 fundraiser the lobbying firm hosted for Durbin in

    At the National Historic Landmarks committee hearing concerning the SS Badger being recommended for NHL status, Broydrick testified in opposition to the idea. The committee rejected the lobbying firm’s arguments, as was reported in the Ludington Daily News at the time. According to the Outer Boundary story, later that same day Durbin wrote a letter to Ken Salazar, then- U.S. Secretary of the Interior who had the ultimate authority for the decision, opposing the committee’s recommendation. The designation so far has not been given to the Badger.

    Broydrick also represented Lake Express in its opposition to the City of Ludington’s Tiger II federal grant application sought on behalf of LMC to provide funds to repower the Badger with diesel engines. The grant was not awarded to Ludington.

    Broydrick also lobbied the EPA, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration — all entities involved in matters pertaining to the SS Badger. It is not illegal to hire lobbyists. LMC has its own lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

    And while Durbin and Broydrick push opposition to the Badger on environmental grounds, Lubar & Co lists on its web page as one of its investments, Hallador Petroleum Co., through its subsidiary Sunrise Coal LLC. The company is engaged in the production of coal from an underground mine in Carlisle, Indiana. Lubar & Co. is the second largest investor with 9.8 percent ownership. The web link to the coal company on Lubar’s investment portfolio page is directly next to the web link to Lake Express.

    Hallador Energy Energy’s CEO Vic Stabio told the Denver Business News in 2011 Hallador will focus on coal indefinitely. Although Hallador considered developing environmentally sustainable energy projects Stabio said the company doesn’t anticipate an economic benefit from seeking alternatives to coal, the Denver publication reported.

    “We are a group that believes in coal as a base load [the minimum amount of power required from a power plant] electrical producer and we quite frankly don’t see a threat from wind or solar, especially wind,” Stabio said.

    Outer Boundary stated Hallador has urged people to write members of Congress “to stop the war on coal.” Sheldon Lubar is on Hallador’s board of directors.

    While Broydrick was working the national front, Outer Boundary states the Lansing lobbying firm of Kelley Cawthorne, whose two principles are former Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley and former State Representative Dennis Cawthorne who once represented Mason County, did the same in Michigan. The magazine’s flow chart also lists Organik Consulting and Movement Advocate as involved. Outer Boundary states Movement Advocate’s managing director is Joe Serwach who the magazine says organized the “Save Our Great Lakes” campaign which the magazine ties to “Stop Dumping Coal Ash.” The “Stop Dumping Coal Ash” was a web-based campaign against LMC and SS Badger. Its ads and videos did not clearly state the people involved in the organization as it launched sometimes preposterous claims about the Badger such as showing a photo of a foot supposedly stepping in what it intimated was black coal ash on a beach. The campaign employed techniques often seen in negative political advertising.

    Stop Dumping Coal Ash also was the name placed on web-based anti-Badger Google advertising that was shown to be paid for by Lake Express and Kelly Cawthorne. The Ludington Daily News in the fall verified that link when shown it by a local marketing agent who discovered it and wanted the ads off the local company’s web site.

    “The conclusion Outer Boundary Magazine has a arrived at is simple. The only reason a movement against the SS Badger has taken place is to eliminate the competition for Lake Express car ferry service. When you follow the money trail the piggy bank resides with Sheldon B. Lubar and Lake Express, and when consideration is taken showing an orchestrated environmental movement against an insignificant operation, while large discharges like British Petroleum’s refinery and the cities of Chicago and Milwaukee sewage discharges do not even show up on the activist radar, there is no other path that can be considered,” the Outer Boundary story concludes.

    Calls for comments this morning made to Lake Express and Kelly Cawthorne had, as of deadline, not received response. Sen. Durbin’s office in late morning said was unaware of the magazine story and early this afternoon said it contained errors, but has not yet stated what are the errors. Lake Michigan Carferry this morning praised the Outer Boundary article.

    “We are pleased that Steve Krueger, of Outer Boundary Magazine, has taken this issue on. We appreciate the time and effort that he’s dedicated to bringing awareness and greater clarification to the assault that LMC has been under from our adversaries,” stated Terri Brown, director of marketing and media relations.

  • avatar

    THANK YOU ! .

    A few here may remember when news used the ‘ follow the money ‘ mantra always , not so much these days sad to say .


Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Inside Looking Out: I think F35 uses system like that to predict failures and order spare parts before the failure...
  • Lou_BC: “Yes because people like you defunded them…” Ah yes, the “defund” argument. The same...
  • sgeffe: “You’ll LUV this time-share!” (Until you see the 400% YOY increase in maintenance fees!)
  • Lou_BC: @Matt Posky – a positive drug screen in a fatality might get included in substance abuse statistics....
  • EBFlex: “So “meanwhile in automotive news” is a jab to Posky to stick to stories you deem germane but you...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber