Weather Updates

Editorial: Keep a cleaner S.S. Badger steaming along

The S.S. Badger car ferry steams inport Manitowoc Wis. May 28.  |  Sue Pischke~ AP

The S.S. Badger car ferry steams into the port of Manitowoc, Wis., on May 28. | Sue Pischke~ AP

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Updated: May 10, 2013 6:14AM

If you bought a ticket on the S.S. Badger to ferry you and your car across Lake Michigan, you would expect the ship to make the trip on time.

So we hope Lake Michigan Carferry, owner of the Badger, will also be on time when it comes to abiding by an agreement that it will finally stop dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan.

As the nation’s last coal-powered steamship, the 60-year-old vessel jettisons 509 tons of coal ash every year while it hauls cars and passengers between Manitowoc, Wis., and Luddington, Mich. Although coal ash is not classified as hazardous, it contains some heavy-metal pollutants.

The Badger’s owners have signed a consent agreement with the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency saying they’ll “implement a sophisticated ash retention system” after the 2014 season that will keep the ash on board and out of the lake. On Monday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and environmentalists urged Chicagoans to speak up during the current 30-day comment period on the consent agreement and insist that the S.S. Badger meet the deadline.

Some people no doubt will comment they’d rather pull the plug on the Badger altogether. But the vessel is a big part of the Lake Michigan summer experience. It’s a vacation season staple for families, and it supports 200 jobs. And we really don’t want all the vehicles it carries — including 1,500 semis a year — making Chicago rush hours even worse by trying to drive south around the lake.

Meeting the deadline won’t exactly be a day at the beach. The Badger’s owners, who have missed other deadlines in this long-running dispute, still have to design the system they’ll use, get approvals and install the equipment. But they say they can do it.

This is one job they need to get done on time. We want a clean lake. And we want to see the Badger keep sailing.

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