Federal environmental officials have reached an agreement with operators of the S.S. Badger to allow the coal-burning ship to continue operating through the 2014 sailing season.
The Ludington-based Lake Michigan Carferry Service Inc. had been in danger of going out of business after U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials targeted the Badger's dumping of coal ash on each trip across Lake Michigan.
The company will be required to eliminate the coal ash discharge by the end of the 2014 season.
"This consent decree offers the fastest and most certain path available to EPA to stop the discharge of coal ash from the Badger into Lake Michigan," EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman said in a news release Friday. "The enforcement agreement reduces the discharge of coal ash more quickly and with greater oversight than would occur during the appeal of a decision to issue or deny a permit — a process that often takes several years."
Since 2008, the ship carrying motorists from Ludington to Manitowoc in Wisconsin has been operating with a discharge permit issued under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. In December, that permit expired, leaving the last coal-powered ship working the Great Lakes in danger of being shut down after 60 years of operation.
In a statement released Friday afternoon, Lake Michigan Carferry Service President Bob Manglitz said: "The resolution of this issue has taken far longer than we had hoped, but the end result has been worth the effort. This agreement will save the jobs of our 200 plus employees as well as many other jobs in the states of Michigan and Wisconsin.
"We appreciate the support we have received from our elected representatives in Michigan and Wisconsin and the encouragement of the thousands of people who have supported our efforts to keep the badger sailing."
Over the next two years, the Badger will be required to systematically reduce the amount of coal ash dumped into the lake. The company's statement made no mention of plans for its operation beyond 2014.