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Federal funding to pay for new Beaver Island ferry

The Emerald Isle arrives in St. James on Beaver Island on Monday, Sept. 6, 2021.
Mike Krebbs
Traverse City Record-Eagle
The Emerald Isle arrives in St. James on Beaver Island on Monday, Sept. 6, 2021. (Photo: Mike Krebbs/Traverse City Record-Eagle)

A new passenger ferry is on the way to help get you to Beaver Island, thanks to some federal funding.

U.S. Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow announced more than $6.5 million to help finance a 150-foot-long vessel.

The grant funding is through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Ferry Service Rural Communities Program, which was established by the 2022 bipartisan infrastructure law.

The total also includes state funding from the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Beaver Island is located in northeastern Lake Michigan. The only way to get there is by boat or plane.

“Ferry service is a lifeline for Beaver Island, and this investment will provide needed funding to help purchase a new passenger ferry,” said Peters, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. “I’m proud to have advocated for this federal grant for this new ferry, which will be important for Beaver Island’s residents, tourism and economy.”

Two ferries currently service the island. One vessel is more than 60-years-old, the other was built in 1997.

Beaver Island Transportation Authority Executive Director Mary Cook said the money will purchase a vessel that was built in 2012 but will also help fund some modifications.

“The propulsion study is going to look at what alternative fuel sources that we could possibly use. And then the vessel will be modified,” she said.

Cook said she hopes the ferry will eventually be a hybrid - using both diesel and electricity.

What’s left of the $6.6 million will go to dock renovations on shore, Cook said.

“The ferry system is essential for transporting residents, seasonal visitors, tourists, vehicles, and freight — all of which are necessary for the community and economy,” Cook said. “The existing ferries are showing their age and the island is grateful for this opportunity.”

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