Ludington’s SS Badger is either a historical West Michgian landmark, or it’s a for profit business. You’ll either do anything to keep it going, or there’s a cost/benefit analysis that trumps its existence.
The SS Badger is a car ferry that travels between Ludington, Michigan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin. It takes about four hours to get across the lake. After operating since 1953, the SS Badger is likely to be shut down from an EPA rule, and it’s entirely the owners’ fault. As the last remaining coal powered passenger vessel in the United States it dumps about 4 tons of mercury and arsenic laden coal ash into Lake Michigan every single day it operates. Every. Single. Day. Shutting it down will be better for the environment, but it will kill a West Michigan landmark, and hurt the economy and 200 jobs in the small town of Ludington. Blame falls on the owners of the Badger.
I would disagree with those who would shut down the Badger with relish and gusto. More appropriately, if it must go out, it should go out like an old, beloved family pet. With reverence and regret.
Yes, it’s a polluting old vessel. But it’s OUR polluting old vessel. And it holds beautiful, cherished, and warm memories for many of us.
I rode on it once when I was very very small. So long ago that I only have sense memories of it. The wind on my face. The smell of the lake. And blue, and blue, and blue. Getting drowsy and sleeping against my father. The memories are, though I barely remember them, fond ones. I have a certain pain in my heart to hear that it’s likely to shut down. And I have an even greater pain in my heart for the city of Ludington which sees quite a bit of economic activity from the Badger. Up to 200 jobs created from the ferry in a small coastal michigan town on the edge of Up North.
It’s going to hurt Ludington when the Badger goes.
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Those who would blame the EPA are misplacing their anger. State reps are trying to get exceptions from the EPA to allow the Badger to continue dumping on the grounds that it’s historic. On the grounds that it’s the LAST remaining coal fired passenger vessel, while the EPA is shutting it down for exactly the same reason.
Ultimately, however, the blame lays in the hands of the owners. The writing has been on the wall for more than a decade that coal as a source of power for ships was on the outs. You don’t get to be the last remaining coal fired passenger vessel in the United States without ignoring the warning signs, and going for cheap cheap cheap at the expense of our waters.
In 2008 the Environmental Protection Agency demanded that the SS Badger find a way to capture and properly dispose of the coal ash rather than directly dumping it into the lake. It gave them years to do this.
Did the owners of the Badger do it?
Given years to do so, did they do it?
Given years to change to a new fuel source or simply reclaim the coal ash rather than dump it into the Big Lake did they do it?
Did they ever once say “Well gosh, this is a HISTORIC VESSEL! A LANDMARK VESSEL! It’s CRITICAL to Ludington’s ECONOMY! Profits be damned, we can’t let the Badger die, we’ll upgrade her!”
The owners have had years of notice. Half a decade. Years and years to stop dumping their coal ash into the lake. But they ignored it.
This isn’t a story of government intervention. This is a story of greed. This is a story of a company that wanted to run this landmark ship as long as possible as cheaply as possible with no regard for its long term survival or the health of our Great Lakes or the community that counted on it. While all other passenger ship businesses moved on……the owners of the Badger tried to wring out every last cent from the ship before it died, everyone else be damned.
No. The owners of the SS Badger haven’t treated the vessel like a historic landmark to West Michigan. They treated it like a two bit business investment they could ride to the end of the line.
Cross posted from Muskegon Critic