on the SS Badger
(Feature photo: cars being unloaded from the SS Badger ferry)
By Karen Rodriguez
Daily from mid-May to mid-October the SS Badger car ferry crosses Lake Michigan between Manitowoc, Wisconsin and Ludington, Michigan. Since 1953, the Badger has made the 60-mile, four hour trip carrying railroad cars, giant wind towers, semi-trailer trucks, automobiles and hundreds of passengers. The largest on Lake Michigan at 410 feet long and weighing 6,650 tons, the ship has four coal burning boilers.
Prior to 2015, the Badger dumped nearly four tons of coal ash slurry into Lake Michigan on each trip across the lake. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asserted this was a violation of federal water quality standards for mercury. At first, Badger ferry operator Lake Michigan Carferry Service, Inc. insisted that because the Badger is on the National Register of Historic Places the coal operation needed to be maintained. By 2013, however, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice entered into a consent decree with the company because water quality was deemed most important to the health of Lake Michigan, drinking water for millions around the lake. After a $25,000 civil penalty and $2.4 million in new equipment that now collects the ash on board, the Badger is now compliant with federal water quality standards.
The coal collection system was the latest modification to the Badger. Ludington native Charles Conrad bought the Badger and sister ship Spartan and City of Midland in 1991, after the Michigan-Wisconsin Transportation Company ceased operating. Conrad founded the Lake Michigan Carferry Service, Inc. and, without federal government subsidies, re-furbished and re-opened the Badger.
The Badger is a sturdy vessel even if crossings are stormy. Passenger amenities include staterooms, restaurant, café, bar, theater, TV room and gift shop. In the common room near the café, families gather with a friendly ship staff to play Badger Bingo and other games. Some prefer to rest on deck—when it’s not too chilly.
SS Badger ferry: http://www.ssbadger.com/
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: https://www.epa.gov/ss-badger
All content and photos copyright 2017 Karen Rodriguez