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New Beaver Island ferry secures more federal funding

The Beaver Islander was built in 1962 by Sturgeon Bay Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. out of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin and purchased new by Beaver Island Boat Company.
The Beaver Islander was built in 1962 by Sturgeon Bay Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. out of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin and purchased new by Beaver Island Boat Company.

More federal funding is coming for a new passenger ferry to the state's "Emerald Island."

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has been awarded $10 million in federal funding to help construct the vessel that will run between the Lake Michigan island and the city of Charlevoix.

The funding, announced late last week by Michigan's two U.S. senators, is on top of the nearly $6.6 million announced for the project in January.

“All year long, residents and tourists rely on ferry service for transportation to and from Beaver Island,” said Sen. Gary Peters, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. “I advocated for this grant funding, which will make transportation of both people and freight to Beaver Island more efficient while supporting the Island’s economy.”

The grant funding was available through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Ferry Service for Rural Communities Program. It was established as part of President Joe Biden’s 2021 Infrastructure Plan which set aside $108 billion for improvements across the country.

The ferry program is also funding a handful of other projects in four states and the territory of American Samoa.

Beaver Island is only accessible by boat or plane. While two ferries currently service the island, one of which, called Beaver Islander, is more than 60 years old and is in need of replacement. The other, named the Emerald Isle, was built in 1997.

Both Vessels are owned by the Beaver Island Boat Company

A new vessel was designed in 2012, but did not have the funding to move forward. Beaver Island Transportation Authority Executive Director Mary Cook previously told the Record-Eagle a propulsion study will look at what alternative fuel sources for the vessel.

Once the study is completed, the 2012 design will be modified and the construction process can begin.

“Water transportation is essential for the residents and economy, carrying passengers, vehicles, and freight to and from the Island,” Cook said in a statement. “Senator Peters and Senator Stabenow have taken an interest in the unique transportation needs of our community and understand the importance of the ferry system for the Island. We are extremely grateful to them for doing so and thankful for their support of our grant applications for these projects.”

Cook said the grants will also fund dock renovations to accommodate the new vessel.

The total cost of the project was estimated to cost $17.5 million when it was announced last year.

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.