GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The S.S. Badger, a Lake Michigan staple and the last coal-fired passenger ship in the United States, is working to find a new fuel source.
The Ludington Daily News was first to report the plans after a season preview event earlier this month.
According to the Daily News, discussions around ditching coal have been in the works for years and the boat’s previous ownership even received a grant from the state of Wisconsin to do so.
Mark Barker, the president of Interlake Holding Company, which owns the S.S. Badger’s parent company, told the Daily News that they looked heavily at natural gas but deemed that wasn’t the right move. Barker said the Badger needs to look well into the future, and that includes the goal of being carbon neutral by 2050.
“At the end of the day, we need a boat that is sustainable, and that means economically, environmentally, from everything. We want the boat to continue to run for the communities that we serve,” Barker told the Daily News. “There’s a lot of talk about what the right long-term fuel is to decarbonize by 2050. That’s maritime goal, to be carbon-neutral by 2050. We have to look at all options, and we have to start somewhere.”
Officials with Lake Michigan Carferry confirmed there is no firm timetable on when the Badger will start installing changes and when the ship will ditch coal for good.
The 410-foot ship was launched in 1953 to ease the congestion on our railroads, which were bringing rail cars to and from Chicago. In the 1990s, the Badger was repurposed to ferry passengers and their automobiles across the lake, making daily trips between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in the summer.
The boat can carry 600 people and 180 vehicles. It was designated as a historic landmark in 2016, noted for its economic and historical significance to Michigan and Wisconsin.
The Badger’s 69th season started May 12 and will run until Oct. 16.
This summer, the ship will show off a new paint job. The Badger was dry-docked this winter for its five-year inspection, a requirement of the U.S. Coast Guard. In addition to a visual and ultrasound hull inspection, crews made repairs to a propeller and gave the ship a new paint job, which required 800 gallons of paint.