Friday, April 5, 2013

SMOKESTACK SERENITY

S. S. Badger, launched in 1951 at Christy Corporation of Sturgeon Bay,
 enters homeport in Pere Marquette Harbor, Ludington, Michigan.

(Purinton file photo)
Washington Island, Wisconsin -  (Note:  @ 6:45 pm - I revised the link within this article, after having first published incorrect symbols to website of the Outer Boundary article. DP)

Lake Michigan Carferry's Badger deserves the chance to continue service.

In this blog I'm going to state why I support the Badger's efforts to continue sailing, and
I'd like to encourage you to support the Badger with a letter, today, to ensure this ship operates for the next several years.

In just a matter of a few more years, I believe, federal regulations will allow the use of natural gas to fuel passenger vessels like the Badger.  This trend has already started in Europe, and one of the Staten Island ferries will soon operate using natural gas as fuel.  Practically no maritime magazine of the past year has not had some mention of conversion of ships to natural gas, a cheap and efficient fuel.  Safety measures and associated regulations, however, must keep apace with those developments.

When change does occur to allow a natural gas option for domestic water transportation - and as soon as funding is available to enable the Badger to convert its steam plant from a coal fuel source - it is my belief the Badger will become as efficient and clean as any modern-built vessel.

The Badger's record these past ten years or so has been stellar, in terms of providing a useful and dependable service (center nearly half-way north and south in Lake Michgan) with multiple trips per day, an option for over-sized trucks and other vehicle traffic to avoid congested highways at the southern end of Lake Michigan.  The Badger is a realistic option to driving around the lake, in saving gas mileage, and perhaps most of all, the 4 1/4 hour ride is pleasant, with opportunities aboard including a variety of entertainment activities and several decks to walk about.

We've been conditioned to think all coal is bad

If you went through grade school in those years prior to the inception of Earth Day (March 21, 1970), then very likely the sight of factories belching smoke was equated with industriousness, people at work, and a national economy moving forward.

But, when coal is burned it produces smoke and ash by-products.  With land-based coal plants, coal ash can be buried, or combined with concrete to make road surfaces.  Stack scrubbers clean plant stack emissions.  In recent years, coal generating plants have been cleaned up to meet tougher EPA standards, and electricity from those coal plants is a key to cheaper, safe and efficient electrical energy.

When the coal-fired boilers are on board a vessel, as with the Badger, there is no way around smoke and ash production.  The smoke goes up, the ash is flushed overboard.  It is very possible there is no other coal-fired ship like the Badger operating in the western hemisphere, much less the world.

According to Bob Manglitz, Lake Michigan Carferry president, "If you burn coal, you produce ash.  Its something we do, and we have to do something with that ash.  A stream of water takes the hot ash, which has fumes and gases, and washes them overboard."

The other thing to know, however, is that the amounts of coal ash aren't huge and unlimited.  They're relatively small and readily quantifiable.  When the Badger's ash by-product is compared with other pollutants that enter Lake Michigan annually, such as from city sewer run-off in Chicago or Milwaukee, the amounts and the impact is infinitesimal.

I'm not a chemist, nor an engineer, and so I won't try to recite or interpret the amounts of mercury or lead that are discharged into the lake on a trip, or annually, by the Badger.  However, Lake Michigan Carferry has had several independent lab analyses of coal ash waste, done in order to obtain EPA clearance for an earlier permit.  The Badger has always operated - and continues to operate - legally, within EPA permit guidelines.  What the Badger now requests is an extension on that exemption, and it has become a nasty public relations battle pitched by their arch-rival, Lake Express Ferry of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

I received, upon request, information concerning the Badger coal ash discharge from Mr. Manglitz.  However, since that time I've read an excellent piece published in the Outer Boundary Magazine, by editor Steve Krueger, titled: "Attacking the SS Badger, The Deception of Environmental Activism."

Please read this article at the following web address before you continue reading this blog!

         http://outerboundarymagazin.wix.com/outer-boundary#!article-3/c16gd



News media regurgitates tainted press releases

Last November I read in several newspapers (the Chicago Tribune, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Wall Street Journal) and heard on the radio (Wisconsin Public Radio was one source) nearly identical reports about the "tons of coal ash dumped annually by the Badger."  The resulting conclusion for each was that the Badger was a dinosaur polluter that needed to be stopped, for the sake of the lake.  It was quite clear that these news organizations used a similar press release as their basis for reporting news, and that very little leg work was done to determine facts or sources.

Pointed press releases, it was my belief, originated with the Lake Express or the publicity arm hired by the Lake Express.  The Lake Express is the competing cross-lake ferry service home ported in  Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The Lake Express Company operates a high-speed, aluminum catamaran using four large diesels engaged at near-top rpms to hold their seasonal schedule.  Those engines guzzle nearly a tanker load of diesel fuel each day - not insignificant in terms of air pollution - in order to carry passengers and vehicles between Milwaukee and Muskegon, Michigan.

The Lake Express' majority owner is the Lubar Company, and Mr. Sheldon Lubar of Milwaukee is the senior management official.  Mr. Lubar and his son, David, according to the Journal Interactive article 10/12/12, “…are the founders and owners of the Lake Express ferry.”  “Lubar and his son,” the Journal article continued, "are prominent Milwaukee businessmen, investors and benefactors.  The University of Wisconsin Business School is named after Sheldon Lubar."  He is a "...former president of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents.”  Mr. Lubar’s son, David, now sits on the Lake Express board, representing the interests of Lubar & Company.


Mr. Lubar and Lake Express president and operations manager Ken Szallai, apparently, saw the fast-ferry route as the "cat's meow" for Milwaukee, long before it became a reality.  Szallai was the former Milwaukee port director who enabled funding and construction of the docks and infrastructure that would in time hold the catamaran operation, which he then came to manage.

Early on, statements were made in the Lake Express Company business plan about operating late into the season, or heading south to the Caribbean in winter.  Those were, apparently, pie-in-the-sky statements designed to gain favor with government MARAD officials as having a multiple-season mission would make it a more useful, and presumably, potentially more profitable operation.

Through the MARAD's Title XI loan guarantee program for commercial vessels, the Lake Express did garner federal support.  Now, if the Badger were to fail, it is the failure of a privately held company to remain profitable and owners will have to answer.  If Lake Express should fail, it is ultimately the tax payer who will pay for the failure. (As we did in another example, one of even greater magnitude, when two, much larger and more powerful ferries built for the Hawaiian trade failed within the first year of intended operation.)

There was friction reported in the press from the very first announcements of a Lake Express route. The Badger management saw the start-up cross-lake operation as competition.  The Lake Express Company claimed publicly that they appealed to a different market, and were not competition, but privately (and apparently through a hired marketing arm) they dissed the Badger in the press for burning coal and not playing fair with their special EPA exemptions, and it seemed the Lake Express piled on whenever it was possible to do so.


If competition was not initially, openly admitted by the two ferry organizations, it has been made public since.   I believe recent complaints aired through the press may now be a sign of desperation on the part of the Lake Express organization to disparage the Badger.  The Lake Express Company, through an ongoing campaign, has waged a negative public relations.  Of the four articles I read last fall, the leading paragraph and body of each story emphasized the pollution caused by the dumping of coal ash, and the tsk-tsking was nearly identical from one media outlet to the other, including Wisconsin Public Radio.  

Why care?

I’ve followed the Badger as it has made a modern-day comeback from the 1950s rail car era, operating with the original steam propulsion plant installed by Sturgeon Bay shipbuilder Christy Corporation. 

My father, Harry Purinton, was employed by R. A. Stearn Naval Architects, Inc., the local firm that provided engineering and blueprints for construction of the car ferry twins, Badger and Spartan.  These vessels were launched days apart in late December of 1951.  

My father’s association with the Badger design bonded me to the Badger in one sense.  But, the Badger also represents ferry transportation I can identify with as an officer and an operator for a small, but nevertheless similar, ferry company.
 
In her earlier days, the Badger was one of several cross-lake railroad car ferries that carried heavy cargo, during a time when manufactured parts were shipped back and forth between Michigan and Wisconsin.  Then, when the cross-lake service was in the process of shutting down by its railroad owners, Charles Conrad of Michigan saw a future for the Badger as a passenger and automobile ferry, catering to recreational markets.  The railroad operation had been anything but customer friendly, but Conrad’s vision provided a welcomed, appealing service.  The Badger began operating on a published schedule (rather than leaving when the rail cars were loaded), and the Badger began to serve recreational customers who also welcomed continuation of the historic route between Ludington and Manitowoc. (The Badger first operated from Kewaunee harbor for several seasons, but then operations shifted to Manitowoc.)

Credit for success, since the first years under Charles Conrad’s watch, can be given to Lake Michigan Carferry President Bob Manglitz and his staff, for overseeing improvements in service and growth in the Badger’s traffic as its reputation for reliability and season-upon-season schedule took hold.  The Badger welcomed autos, large trucks, motorcycles, buses, and, of course, passengers.  The Badger’s business volume also grew when it offered an option to trucks pulling oversize loads.  Crossing the lake via the Badger spared drivers and shippers the difficulties of routing through Chicago and around the southern end of Lake Michigan.

Remarks to discredit his competitor made by Mr. Lubar through public statements, then repeated in the press, hinted that the Badger ran illegally and without approvals for its aging, coal-fired plant.  It was true the Badger ran with an exemption, but it was a special permit issued by EPA, and what Mr. Lubar failed to mention was that his Lake Express also had special, government favor, through approval for the guaranteed construction loan.  Besides contributing its own dollars (the Lubar Company is a venture capital company with a successful track record), it also happened that a significant portion of that initial loan to establish Lake Express was made by the Northwestern Mutual Company of Milwaukee, of which Mr. Lubar was then a director.

I would say, in all fairness, that to this point it appears that both companies are well run and neither does so illegally.  Turning up the heat of rhetoric through the hiring of public relations firms - and tipping campaign coffers of politicians such as the influential Illinois Senator Durbin - is not illegal.

But, as a reminder, limits were stipulated early on that the Lubar Company's financial support for the Badger must be limited.   When a ferry company is struggling to gain market share, as the Lake Express apparently has been - and ethics are tossed out the window - I wonder if the current Lake Express revenues support continued operations without more capital infusion from the Lubar Company?

It would be very surprising if the Badger or the Lake Express operate in any different seasonal cycles than our own Washington Island ferries.  Instead of a gradual bell curve rising in summer, there is an extremely sharp spike in business for about 60 days, tops, after which revenues again fall to levels barely sufficient to pay fuel and labor.  The Lake Express began service in 2004, and it would be interesting to know how many of those years produced profit?

We are aware, because it is public knowledge reported by the media, of numerous, past mechanical breakdowns on the Lake Express, in reduction gears and in main engines.  These machines run near-to-the-pin to extract proper hull speed and keep schedule, machinery that requires frequent maintenance, and even then, is prone to breakdowns from the high-cycling.  Although I have no personal experience with such machinery (but have learned from others' first-hand experience) that fast rpm operations burn more fuel, and this, in turn, tends to wear out parts faster.  Aside from that, those particular German engines, operated in high speed mode, are not especially robust when compared with slower speed, displacement hull operations. (Though neither style is immune from unforeseen breakdowns.)

An appeal to Mr. Lubar from a neophyte

A somewhat naieve appeal from me to Mr. Lubar was mailed in a letter of a year ago.  I thought, in my limited vision, that perhaps Mr. Lubar as a senior partner (and possibly a hands-off, partly retired participant, while his son ran Lubar corporate matters) knew little of what was going on.  And if he did, his personal scruples based upon his estimable business reputation would demand a correction of activities.

I was wrong in my perception.  My letter was promptly answered, but Mr. Lubar kindly sidestepped my statements.

Then, late last November and again this spring, I heard more news about the Badger, and it was coupled with quotes from Mr. Lubar.  Those quotes placed Mr. Lubar, who previously stayed in the background, squarely as the source for much of the most recent agitation.  My respect for Mr. Lubar as a square-shooter diminished accordingly, and I began then to see the longer term harassment plan of the Badger by the Lake Express as a Lubar-led offensive all along.  


You wouldn’t know that the Badger actually enjoys a reputation for compliance with EPA standards if you read those remarks by Lake Express owner, Mr. Lubar.  Portions of his letter were quoted directly in the October 24, 2012, Journal Sentinel which ran the headline, “Lake Express ferry owner criticizes Walker for backing SS Badger permit.”

The Journal Sentinel article quoted Mr. Lubar lobbying for the Lake Express at the expense of the Badger, the first time to my knowledge that his personal efforts at Badger-bashing were publicly noted:
  
…Sheldon Lubar says Walker has been misled and is “supporting further pollution of our state’s most precious asset: Lake Michigan.”    And, Lubar wrote the Governor:  “We are disappointed in your support of Lake Michigan Carferry.  We think you are supporting the wrong company.” 

Those quotes were from a letter “obtained” by the Journal Sentinel, and they were aimed at Gov. Walker's support with the state’s award of a $75,000 grant to Lake Michigan Carferry “to accelerate the vessel’s conversion process from coal.”  


Following, then is my letter of more than a year ago, followed with Mr. Lubar's response.



December 16, 2011
Mr. Sheldon Lubar
Lubar & Co.
Subject:   Badger; Lake Express
Dear Mr. Lubar,
I’m writing to you as one ferry operator to another, one Great Lakes maritime business entity addressing a related business, on the subject of the news I have read or heard about the Badger in major media.   I believe it is in our best interest to operate in a manner that reflects suitably for all concerned.
During the past 30 or so years, I’ve been active with the Great Lakes Passenger Boat Assn., and with the national Passenger Vessel Association.  I served a number of years as a PVA director, officer, and then as PVA president in 2001.   During my involvement with ferries and the small passenger vessel industry, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many different owners, managers and operators representing a wide range of passenger vessel operations, not exclusively ferries.  I’ve found that people in this industry, as well as the many folks who service, support and regulate in this somewhat unique business, are fine people to know.  They tend to be straightforward in their business dealings and helpful to one another.
So, it is with this background that I find the continuation of denigration in the press of the Badger to have the appearance of being biased, rather than forthright, balanced reporting.  While the press may claim balance and objectivity, it is my assumption that this information comes not simply through the investigation of a reporter, but that information is likely being fed to the press.  The result has raised the alarm that there is illegal dumping of tons of toxic coal ash material in Lake Michigan, which exaggerates the image of how the Badger does and must operate, until such time as they are able to accomplish an upgrade to their coal-fired propulsion system. 
I have a hunch that at least some of this information comes from sources within the Lake Express.  I believe such character, if true, does not reflect well upon Lake Express or its management.  The implication of the several pointed articles I read in the Chicago Tribune, for instance, (followed by similar Wisconsin Public Radio news broadcasts) cited specific emissions from the Badger, but as far as I am aware, whether desirable or not the Badger’s operations and emissions have been and continue to be addressed for improvement and compliance.   
The Badger, also according to press accounts, has applied for time to pursue solutions to their propulsion plant.  This will allow them to come under compliance of EPA laws – limits and deadlines set by an administration that may not have considered the range of consequence in the field.  The Badger people do not disagree with EPA’s parameters, but they request additional time to get their unique ship in order, a ship with a peculiar set of challenges, dollars being only one of several significant hurdles.
Taken into perspective, this coal fired steam plant needs upgrading, and it is a challenge for Lake Michigan Carferry management to resolve.   In the meantime, their problem shouldn’t immediately impact Washington Island Ferry Line customers any more than it would Lake Express customers.   Resolution of the Badger’s propulsion for future operations is in our best interest… unless we firmly believe the success of our operations are dependent upon the failure of the Badger.  
Quite obviously the Badger management and those who depend upon the Badger for paychecks, and quite possibly the bulk of Badger passengers, are already well aware of the pollution effects of burning coal, but is it our job to press the point? 
How does such negative Badger press improve the image of a ferry such as the Lake Express, a vessel which itself burns a significant amount of diesel fuel each summer day - hardly a “green machine” it could be argued?  
Will the Lake Express, which received many millions of dollars in funds through a guaranteed MARAD Title XI loan (that all taxpayers stand behind), and benefits from municipal harbor infrastructure, make good by solidifying its own operation without driving its competitor into the mud?  
Having observed the operating records of similar aluminum, high speed, high horsepower ferries that have attempted to operate in U.S. waters in the past decade, I conclude that not all vessels and routes have proven successful.  Many operations are heavily propped up by government assistance, and when that assistance ran dry, they failed miserably.  
This can be a very tough business.   Often the “sex appeal” of a high-speed aluminum vessel shaving commuter minutes outweighs common sense, and routes are charted for cities or waters that do not have a solid “from-to” components.   I could have (and I did for those who asked) provided experience-based advice, for instance, on the topic of operating a ferry vessel in winter, or even in the shoulder months, when weather is challenging.  Yet, despite what I would have advised as common sense, the Lake Express was originally presented to the public as a ferry that would operate into December.  What folly, from both revenue and an operational point of view!
To sum up, I believe that the Lake Express, like most Great Lakes maritime operations, likely has all it can do to provide good service for its own set of customers through a very short operating season, keeping its equipment up-and-running on a daily basis to fulfill its schedule, and meeting or exceeding government regulations regarding small passenger vessels as the Certificate of Inspection requires, and perpetuating its ferry service for the long term benefit of its customers, employees, and management, and ports. 
If there is positive influence you can bring to bear regarding this situation, I would appeal to your best judgment and sense of fair play for Lake Express to manage its own operation, ensuring stones aren’t cast on a competing vessel – a vessel managed by people like you who, in addition to making a return on their investment, wish to provide a safe, reliable, and consistent ferry service in Lake Michigan.
Sincerely,
Dick Purinton
Washington Island Ferry Line, Inc.

Mr. Lubar’s response was cordial, but he side-stepped my reasons for writing him:

Lubar & Co.                                      December 22, 2011 

Dear Dick,
I received your letter and, after reading it, I forwarded it to Ken Szallai who is the president of Lake Express.
I commend you on your long history with the Washington Island Ferry and wish you a continued successful future.
If you are in the Milwaukee area during our operating season of May through October, I would be honored to show you the Lake Express if that would be of interest.
Sincerely,
Sheldon B. Lubar

Conclusion

Although so far it hasn’t worked out, I would like to take Mr. Lubar up on his offer of a tour of Lake Express operations.  I still believe there can be two separate, and successful, ferry operations crossing Lake Michigan, and that one ferry company shouldn’t depend upon the discontinuance of the other for its success. 

In the meantime, in an email blast received Tuesday, April 2 from the Manitowoc Area Visitor & Convention Bureau (which recognizes the economic impact of the Badger operations on the city of Manitowoc and surrounding communities) read:   Let Your Voice Be Heard!

This email notice stated:   "Lake Michigan Carferry has signed a Consent Decree Agreement with the Department of Justice and EPA that will require the SS Badger to end the ash discharge within two years.  This agreement is the product of many months of working closely with the EPA.  ...  There will now be a 30 day period for the public to submit comments to the Department of Justice.  After that, the court will approve the decree if it is in the public interest.  The public comment period is open from March 27, 2013 - April 26, 2013. "

I write this blog today so that your support for continued Badger operations can be expressed through comment on the Consent Decree:

Address to:   Assistant Attorney General 
                     Environmental and Natural Resources Division

                    Ref. Case Number:   D. J. Ref. No. 90-5-1-1-1-771
                    Case Name:  United States v. Lake Michigan Trans-Lake Shortcut, Inc., dab Lake
                                          Michigan Carferry Services and SS Badger.
You may email comments:
                   pubcomment-ees.enrd@usdoj.gov

Or mail comments to:
                   Assistant Attorney General
                   U. S. DOJ - ENRD
                   PO Box 7611
                   Washington, DC    20044-7611

Closing remarks

My ultimate wish would be that both of these companies and their services survive recent economic downturns, and the traffic that effects annual profitability, by providing excellence with their transportation products.
  
We know how difficult just operating another year can be.  Even in our much smaller scale situation, we're looking for an improved future.  Whether two cross-lake operations can survive will depend, partly, on fairness and independence with which each business is pursued.  Its one thing to produce profit, another to continually fight another ferry operation, especially one that is continually lobbying behind the scenes for its extinction.

MARAD Title XI Loan Guarantees are a good thing if properly done.  They stimulate the maritime economy and can help produce new vessels for routes that previously didn't exist.  Trouble comes when, intended or not, the business plan and contingencies are insufficiently stated or improperly carried out. 

-  Dick Purinton 







7 comments:

Diann Neil Engblade said...

As a former Chessie System employee who worked in the Marine office and Ludington resident, I appreciate your
perspective. You've made a compelling case for the Badger continued operation. Just one thing, in the 70s and 80s, the car ferry employees took as much pride in the boats as does the present company. Our customer service and attention to the traveling public seemed misrepresented in this article.

Kathy said...

Dick - Would you consider putting a "search" feature on your blog? I have missed many of your blogs over the years and would love to search for anything "Cornell". Thanks for your consideration!

Kathy Cornell Raatz

Richard Purinton said...

Thanks for all your comments.

I hadn't meant to compare employee dedication then vs. now on the Badger. I think the era was different, and certainly the mission of the old car ferries was to serve the railroads, and with the more recent shift to a tourism-based clientele, I was trying to say that the amenities and maybe the number of crew per passenger, and the training the crew receives from a customer service point of view, changed. But that's conjecture, and I'm sure those who worked with the car ferry years ago were equally dedicated.

I should also make clear that the opinions expressed in this blog are my own - not that of anyone else or a group, and not of the Washington Island Ferry Line. This is an independently-written blog.

In reply to the next comment (below) to consider installing a "search feature"... I'll have to ask someone who knows more than I do. I will look into it. - DP

Richard Purinton said...

A reader comments with the following information:

"I am a fan of Dick's Ferry Cabin News and recently read his blog on the Badger. It certainly opened my eyes on the alleged pollution issue of this ferry. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin is on a mission to take our focus away from the "real" problems our country is facing by directing our attention to a non issue such as this. Please pass along this article from yesterday's Chicago Tribune to Dick. I would encourage him to pass along his blog on this issue to the editorial board as well as to columnist John Kass."

http://eeditionmobile.chicagotribune.com/Olive/Tablet/ChicagoTribune/SharedArticle.aspx?href=CTC%2F2013%2F04%2F09&id=Ar00503

Anonymous said...

Outstanding work as usual, sir. As a frequent customer of all three ferry services I appreciate the options. The Badger is being "railroaded"!!

Greg from Ypsilanti, MI

Richard Purinton said...

John Hanson wrote:
"I believe the attack on the SS Badger is, yet again, a businessman's and politician's campaign to impact governmental policy for profit rather than reasonable concern for the environment.

Studies have indicated that the Badger's coal ash deposit over its 59 year history is miniscule:
1. In all its 59 years, the Badger has released only a small fraction of the toxic chemicals that Chicago legally releases into Lake Michigan as raw sewage each year.
2. All coal burning power plants along Lake Michigan produce more coal ash in two hours than the Badger does in an entire year.

By EPA's accounting, the SS Badger provides a $15-million economic impact to Manitowoc, WI, and $23 million for Ludington, MI.

The numbers speak for themselves. The SS Badger should continue to provide its very valuable service.

Sincerely,

John C. Hanson
Genoa, Wisconsin"

Anonymous said...

Alleged pollution investigation:The undersigned Independent Ship and Marine Surveyors carried out an inspection onboard the detained vessel at the port, in order to investigate the reportedly suspicious alleged oil pollution caused by a container vessel and to intervene with the authorities in order to release the vessel without any delays and to protect the interests of the underwriters.

For More Articles visit :-Articles by marine surveyors