The SS Badger opens its season this Friday with a combustion control system that reduces coal ash and keeps the historic car ferry operating.

The last coal-burning steamship on the Great Lakes is installing the multimillion-dollar system in two phases after a consent decree signed last October with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

 SS Badger 

Lake Michigan Carferry, the vessel’s operator, expects the new controls will reduce the coal ash dumped in Lake Michigan by 10 to 15 percent. An ash retention system will be installed this coming winter to be ready for next year’s sailing season, said spokesman Terri Brown, and “the coal ash will be disposed of in an approved manner onshore in 2015.” 

Delivered in 1953 by Christy Corp., the 394’x60’x20’ ferry can carry 620 passengers and 180 vehicles between Ludington, Mich., and Manitowoc, Wisc., at an average speed of 15.6 knots. Powered by two Skinner Unaflow four-cylinder marine steam engines rated 3,500 hp at 125 rpm, the Badger's propulsion system is designated a mechanical engineering landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. 

"This technology has never been executed on a coal-fired steam ship. The new combustion system will allow the ship to be more efficient,” Chuck Leonard, vice president of navigation said in a statement.

The federal government consent decree filed in March 2013 required the Badger to stop discharging coal ash into the lake by the end of this season. The ferry was authorized to discharge the ash under the 2008 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Vessel General Permit until December 2012. 

The settlement requires the company to report the ash, mercury and sulfur content of the coal used as well as the amount used and the ash discharged daily. Noncompliance carries a penalty of $3,000 a day for first seven days of discharge and $6,000 every day after.

“It is not the Court’s function to determine whether this is the best possible settlement that could have been obtained, but only whether it is fair, adequate, reasonable, and consistent with the public interest,” Judge Janet Neff wrote in her order.

The Badger’s season runs through Oct. 26.

Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.