By Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
The nearly $200,000 Ironton Ferry refurbishment project could take a little longer than expected.
Ironton Ferry Board Committee Member and Ferry refurbishment project manager Richard Gillespie said crews are working diligently but that U.S. Coast Guard regulations, coupled with a harsh winter, have put the plan to rebuild the Ironton Ferry behind schedule.
“All the people involved are working hard but the weather hasn’t helped,” Gillespie said. “The road commission has been doing the dismantling but the weather has been causing them to focus on the roads, disallowing them from working on the ferry as much.”
He added, “The speculation is that it could be delayed 20 to 30 days.”
Work on the ferry began back in November 2012 with plans to move the control center, or wheelhouse; rebuild the tired 1978 diesel engine; and completely rewire the craft.
“This is a serious refurbishment that has been long put off,” Gillespie said. “We didn’t want to be late getting it completed but circumstances are out of our control.”
He added, “I think people will really appreciate what we have when it’s done … and their patience will definitely be appreciated because it isn’t easy and it needed to be done.”
A crew of men removed the old wheelhouse on Friday March 22. It will be donated—as was the last engine—to the Northern Michigan Antique Flywheelers in Walloon Lake where it will be displayed among other historic items.
A new wheelhouse will be built, the new diesel-powered hydraulic power plant will be more environmentally-friendly than the 1978 model, and the ferry will be able to operate further into the winter season, if deemed necessary, due to its self-contained cooling system; the old engine was cooled by taking in lake water.
The ferry, which generally opens on or around April 15 of each year and closes around Thanksgiving, has made nearly 700,000 trips during its lifetime.
According to Gillespie, the ferry continues to operate through user fees, which helped generate the fund balance to pay for improvements.
“We’re hoping to get the vessel completely refurbished for under $200,000,” he said. “It’s fair to say that if we weren’t refurbishing what we have it would be well over a million dollars.”
The ferry is Coast Guard-approved to haul four cars at a time. And, for the first time, it will be rated for its hauling ability.
“It is a significant improvement that we will have a stability letter—which is a weight rating to avoid capsizing—that will be an exact measurement of the ship’s capacity,” Gillespie said. “The Coast Guard has been pressing us to do this for years but there was no way of doing it previously.”
He added, “It will make it much safer and it will be easier to re-certify the ship every five years when we go through our Coast Guard inspection.”
The ferry improvements are being funded through the ferry’s operational fund. Currently the ferry is located at the Boyne City boat launch and the new wheelhouse is being built
“When the ferry is complete they’ll notice how much safer and convenient it is to embark and disembark,” Gillespie said. “It will be a great improvement to the county that should be in service for another 85 years.”