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Beaver Island ferry could reopen this week

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.

One of the Beaver Island ferries should be back to scheduled trips this week, after the Beaver Island Boat Company delayed its seasonal opening due to its two vessels needing maintenance.

The first ferry trips were originally scheduled for April 10.

On March 29, BIBCO president Tim McQueer announced on Facebook that the Emerald Isle was scheduled to have both main engines and transmissions rebuilt over the winter off-season. He said those repairs were prolonged due to additional maintenance and supply issues.

“With the Emerald Isle the heart of our operation, there is never a good time to tackle large projects and we have a short window in the winter to get them completed…” McQueer said in the post. “Work began in early January and everything had to go 100% according to plan to make our start-up date.”

The older and smaller Beaver Islander, meanwhile, unexpectedly needed parts of its hull repaired and is currently dry docked in Escanaba.

Beaver Island is only accessible by boat or plane. The Beaver Islander is more than 60 years old while the Emerald Isle was built in 1997.

McQueer wrote it’s not unusual in older boats to replace hull steel but the need came a year earlier than expected. In subsequent update posts he said employees and vendors were left working long hours to try and make up for lost time.

The delay has had an effect on supply delivery.

“We've ended up moving around cars and vehicles a few times. As far as all the perishable food, we've been sending that to the airplane,” said Adam Stone, assistant dock manager for the ferry company. “Anything nonperishable, we've been holding on here and we're gonna get that over as soon as we can.”

Stone said the Emerald Isle performed trial runs late Tuesday night and could begin running supplies and passengers by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, the ferry service and the Beaver Island Transportation Authority has been securing federal dollars for a new vessel as part of the federal 2021 Infrastructure Plan, which set aside $108 billion for improvements across the country.

The money will fund the design and construction of a more environmentally friendly ferry, in addition to dock improvements.

Stone says the hectic start to the 2024 season has reinforced the need for the new vessel but that it likely won’t be in service for another three to five years.

“It'll be a lot easier to take the Emerald Isle or the new boat out of service without disrupting transportation on the island,” he said. “We'll still be able to haul the same types of things and should be able to keep our schedule.”

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