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DECC's tug will go back to work in harbor

NEWS TRIBUNE The tug Lake Superior soon will bid adieu to its days as a floating ice cream shop and tourist attraction, returning instead to service as a working vessel serving marine traffic in the Twin Ports. The Duluth Entertainment Convention...

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NEWS TRIBUNE

The tug Lake Superior soon will bid adieu to its days as a floating ice cream shop and tourist attraction, returning instead to service as a working vessel serving marine traffic in the Twin Ports.

The Duluth Entertainment Convention Center received three bids for the 114-foot long vessel and accepted the most generous one: Bob Billington of Billington Construction Co. will pay a little more than $56,000 to buy the tugboat.

This isn't the first time the 64-year-old tug has been on the auction block. The Lake Superior was offered for sale last year, but no one stepped forward to meet the minimum $130,000 bid established by the DECC.

Dan Russell, the DECC's executive director, said that in retrospect, it was clear the DECC had vastly overestimated the market for used tugs on the Great Lakes. It didn't repeat the mistake this year and ended up selling the tugboat for less than half the original asking price.

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Russell said the lower cost, combined with the loss last year of the Duluth-based tug Seneca off Michigan's Upper Peninsula, caused the stars to align this year.

The Seneca, which was owned and operated by Zenith Tugboat Co., grounded while being towed to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

"There was suddenly a need for another tug in the harbor," he said.

Russell considers Billington's winning bid a welcome outcome.

"It's a great vessel, and we'll be excited to see it back at work in our harbor," he said.

The Lake Superior first went on display at Minnesota Slip, behind the DECC, in 1996, opening its deck and holds for tours alongside the William A. Irvin, a retired 611-foot laker.

But Russell said the DECC's acquisition of the 180-foot U.S. Coast Guard cutter Sundew in 2004 displaced the Lake Superior. While there was room for all three vessels in the slip during fair weather, the DECC had to move the tug to a berth in Superior each year to protect it from November's battering gales and the scouring force of winter ice. Russell said a Superior marina that previously provided the DECC with a free berth for the Lake Superior was recently sold. Consequently, the DECC would have faced rising costs to keep the tug.

Russell said that with the Lake Superior returning to service, there should be room in the Minnesota Slip to accommodate other smaller tour vessels, such as restored fishing boats or other small vessels on a seasonal basis.

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"We want to keep things fresh," he said.

Meanwhile, the Lake Superior will begin another chapter in a rich history which has included years of service on the Great Lakes, busting ice, assisting in the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and even serving a tour of duty in salt water during World War II.

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