LUDINGTON, Mich. (AP) - The S.S. Badger, the nation's last operating coal-fired ferryboat, kicked off its sailing season Monday while awaiting word on a proposed deal with the government over releasing waste ash into Lake Michigan.
A crowd was on hand at a dock in the Badger's home port of Ludington as the 410-foot vessel embarked for Manitowoc, Wis. The Badger makes daily round trips between the two cities from May to October, providing a shortcut for pleasure seekers and cargo haulers wanting to cross the lake while avoiding lengthy drives through Chicago or Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Another cross-lake ferry service, the Lake Express, resumed service over the weekend between Milwaukee and Muskegon, Mich.
About 100 passengers made the initial crossing on the Badger, which started its season several weeks earlier than usual to accommodate trucks carrying wind turbine parts from Wisconsin to a wind farm being constructed in Michigan, the Ludington Daily News reported.
"It's an economical way to travel and save wear and tear on my vehicle and for the experience - I enjoy the lake," Ryan Koenigs of Marinette, Wis., said before the ship took off from Ludington.
A few months ago, some feared the Badger might be grounded for good. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had given Lake Michigan Carferry, which operates the vessel, until last December to stop discharging ash into the lake. Coal ash contains low concentrations of arsenic, mercury and other heavy metals, although it is not classified as hazardous.
The Badger releases more than 500 tons of ash during a typical season.
Under the agreement announced in March, the ferry can continue releasing the ash for two more years while developing a system for retaining it on board while sailing, then depositing it on land.
A federal judge must approve the deal before it takes effect. A 30-day period for public comment drew 7,000 responses. The U.S. Department of Justice could suggest changes or ask the court to accept it as written.
Opponents contend the government has been too lenient with the ferry company and should insist that the ash discharges stop immediately. Supporters say the Badger is a pillar of the Ludington tourist economy and that the ash does little if any environmental harm.
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