On August 9 2008, the Badger suffered a stern bearing failure, causing the company to cancel the ferry’s sailings for nearly a week. It was the first time the ship had ever experienced a stern bearing failure. On August 10, she sailed under her own power to the Bay Shipbuilding yard in Sturgeon Bay for repairs. As there was no opening at the time for the work to be done in the dry dock, a team of divers was flown in from California to assist in the repairs. Regular sailings resumed August 15 2008. It was the first time since 1994 (when she struck a rock at Ludington) that the Badger was laid up for unscheduled repairs, and the first time since 2005 that the company canceled a sailing because of mechanical failure..The SS Badger has the tough task of balancing the need to preserve a historic ship with the need to minimize environmental impact.
The SS Badger came under fire from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and environmental groups in late 2008 because of its daily practice of dumping untreated coal ash from its boilers directly into the waters of Lake Michigan. Coal ash is a byproduct of the Badger’s propulsion system but is also used in farming applications, such as feedlots where livestock are fed. In a North Dakota State University study, coal ash runoff did not present any toxins to humans or animals beyond the acceptable standards (The Badger had earlier been the subject of EPA Clean Air action but was granted an exemption from regulation.) West Michigan Carferry President and CEO Bob Manglitz has rebuffed the EPA demand that Badger find a way to capture and safely offload ash, change the fueling configuration of the ship, or cease operations by 2012. Manglitz has frequently equated coal ash to “harmless sand” and vowed to keep the Badger in its original coal-burning configuration. In an effort to continue to minimize the environmental impact to the lake, the SS Badger has explored a number of alternatives including, storing the ash on board and unloading upon arrival in Ludington. Another option being considered is the use of compressed natural gas, this would allow the historical boiler system to be maintained and making the SS Badger the first “green” ship on the Great Lakes
The Environmental Protection Agency has told the owners of the historic, coal-powered ferry they must stop dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan by 2013. Currently, the ferry dumps about 4 tons of coal ash into the lake each day that it travels between Michigan and Wisconsin. The Badger should be given sufficient time to be retrofitted to run on natural gas fuel which is one of the cleanest fuels available.
In a climate of economic instability, the Badger remains an economic lifeline to many communities in both Wisconsin and Michigan as it provides 200 jobs directly and supports another 500 jobs indirectly. That amounts to an economic impact of 45 million dollars for Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and Ludington, Michigan. Which is something that cannot be ignored in a time of high unemployment. And, as the last coal-powered ship in the United States, her historical impact is just as valuable as her economic importance to both states. Due to her lengthy service the greatest consideration should be afforded her to have the time to convert to a system that is agreeable to all.