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      Federal ruling could determine fate of historic steamship

      A federal ruling could determine the future of the last remaining coal-fired steamship.

      As the S.S. Badger prepares for its 60th season, a federal ruling could determine the future of the last coal-fired steamship.

      The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the S.S. Badger to stop dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan.

      The 410-foot ferryboat discharges more than 500 tons of ash slurry each season on its runs between Ludington and Manitowoc, WI. Company officials say they're researching new fueling technology but need more time.

      The 2008 Vessel General Permit authorization for the discharge of coal-ash slurry from a coal-fired ferry expired on Dec. 19, 2012. The EPA is reviewing Lake Michigan Carferry's application for an individual Clean Water Act discharge permit for the S.S. Badger.

      The EPA has received more than 6,000 calls and letters concerning the operation of the S.S. Badger. The agency says it will make a tentative decision in March on whether to give the Badger a new permit.

      The S.S. Badger will begin the 2013 sailing season on May 6, two weeks earlier than the previously announced May 17 start date.

      The expanded season is being fueled by the growing wind power industry. The S.S. Badger will ship loads of wind tower sections manufactured by Broadwind Energy, located in Manitowoc when it fires up for the season. The wind tower sections are being shipped to Michigan for several wind generation projects in the state.

      According to officials with the S.S. Badger, the 80 sections being shipped during the two week early season will save more than 24,000 driving miles and 6,000 gallons of fuel.

      Pat McCarthy, VP of Shore Operations said wind energy also helped make 2012 a successful season, "The Badger transported more that 500 wind tower sections last year and this early season opportunity will allow us to improve on that number in 2013."

      A rival diesel-powered ferry, the Lake Express , which travels from Muskegon to Milwaukee, says the Badger should have to follow the same pollution rules as other Great Lakes vessels.