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Duluth's museum ship comes home

Barges guided the 611-foot vessel through the bridge with only 7 inches to spare on each side of the ship.

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With just inches to spare, the William A. Irvin is moved through the open pedestrian bridge and into the Minnesota Slip Wednesday night. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

After more than a year away, the William A. Irvin returned home to the Minnesota Slip Wednesday night.

Wren Works LLC orchestrated the move in which tugboats pulled the vessel from Fraser Shipyards to the pedestrian bridge between Canal Park and the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, which owns and operates the floating museum.

From there, barges guided the 611-foot vessel through the bridge with only 7 inches to spare on each side of the ship. The ship made it completely through the Minnesota Slip Bridge around 10:37 p.m.

Chase Dewhirst was the consultant to the DECC on matters concerning the Irvin.

"It is a slow process. It can only go about one foot every four seconds," said Dewhirst, marine civil engineering manager with AMI Consulting Engineers, of the alignment process, which was meant to minimize the potential for damage.

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The retired ore ship left the slip for Fraser in September 2018 so crews could begin work on a project to stabilize and contain contaminated sediments in the water.

The DECC decided to make the most of the displacement and use the time to make needed repairs and a new coat of paint. In July, the ship was dry-docked at Fraser for restoration.

Dewhirst said while the ship was dry-docked AMI took the opportunity to do more detailed inspections, as it's harder to do so in the water. Small cracks and about 285 rivets were fixed as a result.

"There are other things that can get done while it's not in dry dock," Dewhirst said. "We were prioritizing things that needed to get done in dry dock. We're just increasing the service life of this vessel."

A $500,000 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society was used to fund the work.

Chelly Townsend, executive director of the DECC, said an official welcome is planned for after Irvin returns. It's expected to return to business as usual in 2020.

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