Shepler's Ferry defends against Pence transport backlash

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Shepler’s Ferry appears to be feeling a backlash for transporting Vice President Mike Pence and his team last weekend to Mackinac Island.

The former Indiana governor bucked tradition when he arrived for the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, traveling from a helicopter at the Mackinac Island airport to the Grand Hotel via motorized vehicles rather than a horse-drawn carriage. Pence delivered a Saturday keynote address that touted President Donald Trump's record and the Senate candidacy of Farmington Hills businessman John James. 

Vice President Mike Pence greets conference attendees  in an overflow room at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, ahead of an address to the Michigan Republican Leadership Conference.

Shepler’s Ferry, which since 1945 has operated ferry service to the island, noted the transport in a tweet on Saturday.

“It was our honor to transport the @VP’s emergency vehicles to Mackinac Island this weekend,” the company tweeted. “Regardless of your political views, we hope you’ll understand the logistical intricacies involved in securing our leaders while visiting. We were happy to assist.”

Some Twitter users criticized the move and threatened to take another ferry service.

“If you don't want to lose customers, then show them some respect,” one user wrote. “If there is a no vehicle policy on Mackinac, then vehicles should not have been transported to the island. It shouldn't matter who was in that entourage.”

Another user tweeted: “Secret Service could guard a horse-drawn cart as easily. No other dignitaries needed their cars on the Island.”

Shepler’s Ferry officials responded to multiple tweets on the freight run, saying the decision was not political and the business often transports vehicles approved by the city of Mackinac Island. The company said its helps media professionals bring their vehicles to the island for the annual Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference. 

“We follow island policy, we respect local government and tradition, and we most definitely have the same passion for Mackinac Island as our guests,” Shepler’s Ferry tweeted Monday.

Chris Shepler, president of Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferryh, stands on the upper deck of Miss Margy, a new Shepler ferry to be launched soon.

Later Monday, Chris Shepler, the operation’s president, issued a statement on the freight run controversy. 

“Being involved in the logistical operations of transporting detail for a dignitary alongside the Department of Homeland Security was a very high honor for us and we’re proud of our capable freight crew,” he wrote. “We respect the work of our federal law enforcement agencies, just as we respect the opinions of our wonderful guests.”

Shepler's Ferry officials did not immediately respond Monday evening to a request for comment.

But Republican former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said he considered the controversy overblown.

"My work in politics has brought me to the island more times than I remember over the last 13 years," Calley tweeted to the Detroit Regional Chamber and Shepler's Ferry. "I have seen many vehicles there during that time. They are common enough that this controversy seems a bit silly to me."