This onboard ships wheel and gyro compass repeater are especially popular with kids, since the wheel actually turns.
ryan pavlovich

Fifty tons of burned coal creates ash — up to 500 tons each sailing season. Approximately 20 minutes into each trip, the untreated ash is dumped directly into Lake Michigan. Therein lies the biggest challenge facing the Badger. Environmental groups have said the ash contains harmful metals and elements such as mercury, cadmium, chromium, arsenic and lead. But the Badger’s president and part-owner, Robert Manglitz, said in an article in Crain’s Detroit Business that the ash is “basically sand.” Chief engineer Kulka agrees and says, “You saw how hot that fire was. There’s no petroleum in that ash. I pour it on my garden. My tomatoes love the stuff.”

Elizabeth Ward, conservation-programs coordinator for the Madison, Wis.-based Sierra Club, disagrees. “Heavy metals cannot be burned away. They come with the coal and have to go somewhere. They enter the ecosystem through the smokestack into the air or through the coal ash. The best available pollution controls can capture 90 percent of the mercury and particulate matter, but that 90 percent is in the coal ash. Coal ash is proven to be toxic, and it should be taken seriously.”

Lake Michigan Carferry Service spokeswoman Terri Brown says, “We are sailing legal, and all the practices we perform are done under the Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.” So how has the Badger been allowed to legally dump 500 tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan? First, there was the EPA’s 2008 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Vessel General Permit, which “covers discharges from many vessels into waters of the U.S. and contains specific provisions for discharges from large ferries. … One of these provisions authorizes the discharge of coal-ash slurry from coal-fired propulsion systems through Dec. 19, 2012.”

Then, last month, the EPA granted a tentative decree allowing the Badger to continue discharging into Lake Michigan, but at reduced levels and with a mandate that by Jan. 1, 2015, the LMC must have a coal-retention system in place for the Badger or risk being shut down for good.

Documents provided to the EPA by the Lake Michigan Carferry Service cite an annual economic impact ranging from more than $37 million to a projected $50 million by 2029 for both the ports of Manitowoc and Ludington. Two hundred jobs directly depend on the Badger, according to the LMC, as well as 500 indirect jobs. Over coffee at the House of Flavors in Ludington, Mayor John Henderson says, “We’re talking about 700 American jobs.