2018-02-10 / News

Intensely Cold Weather Stalls Shepler’s Dock Expansion

Changes Are Proposed for Ferry Terminal
By Jacob A. Ball


Steady progress has been made on the construction of a new ferry terminal and hotel at the head of Shepler’s dock on Mackinac Island. The ferry line submitted revisions to the design of the first floor of the building Tuesday, January 9. Steady progress has been made on the construction of a new ferry terminal and hotel at the head of Shepler’s dock on Mackinac Island. The ferry line submitted revisions to the design of the first floor of the building Tuesday, January 9. The intensity of the cold weather in December has postponed the expansion of Shepler’s Mackinac Island dock, but Shepler’s and Durocher Marine of Cheboygan have stockpiled the wood and steel needed for the project on the Island to be prepared in case the temperatures rise. Two new decks on the dock, designed to be a passenger waiting area and a storage space for luggage and freight, will not be built before the beginning of the season, according to company president Chris Shepler.

The ferry company also recently submitted revisions to the first floor of the ferry terminal. Proposed alterations include expansion of the bathrooms, the installation of a ticket booth and staff room, and lengthening the ramp from the dock into the terminal, a building code requirement. Members of the city Planning Commission expressed concerns at their meeting Tuesday, January 9, about how these changes to the interior will affect traffic flow and without the new decks, there might not be sufficient space to manage congestion.


A Liebheer HS895 duty cycle crawling crane lifts construction equipment from Shepler’s dock to Main Street. Owing to low temperatures in December that prevented use of the crane, work on the dock expansion project has not yet begun. A Liebheer HS895 duty cycle crawling crane lifts construction equipment from Shepler’s dock to Main Street. Owing to low temperatures in December that prevented use of the crane, work on the dock expansion project has not yet begun. Dredging work must be performed to firmly attach the decks to the lakebed, but this cannot be done in icy waters or prior to the completion of the dock. In addition, the crane used for the dock construction cannot be operated safely and efficiently in conditions much colder than freezing. According to Aaron Harke, vicepresident of Durocher Marine, temperatures need to remain warmer, above about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, for at least a week to justify sending a crew to Mackinac Island. He does not want his employees to work only two days due to weather, but still must stay on the Island the remainder of the week. Ideally, the crew from Durocher needs about two to three weeks of decent conditions to complete the dock expansion. Before ferry service resumes in the spring, Mr. Shepler hopes to have the 10-foot dock expansion completed, but he said he does not intend to guess what nature will do.


The dock construction for Shepler’s is being performed by Durocher Marine of Cheboygan, and four barges, two cranes, and a tug boat have been brought to Mackinac Island for the winter to complete the project. The barge Kokosing III and the tug General were the first to arrive, in November. The dock construction for Shepler’s is being performed by Durocher Marine of Cheboygan, and four barges, two cranes, and a tug boat have been brought to Mackinac Island for the winter to complete the project. The barge Kokosing III and the tug General were the first to arrive, in November. Due to the delays, even if the dock expansion is ready by summer, the decks mostly likely will not be built until fall 2018. A warm early spring could allow some of this work to go ahead, but city ordinance prohibits most downtown construction during the extended tourism season, starting from the beginning of May. The work that needs to be completed, by Durocher, for the larger dock is pile driving new steel, extensive welding, and some electrical work. Mr. Harke said he believes this work will be completed more efficiently, and of a higher quality, if done in warmer conditions. Laying a wooden deck above the new dock will be subcontracted to another company, according to Mr. Harke.

If the weather allows the initial dock expansion to move forward before the summer ferry season, then the flow of traffic to and from the ferries should be improved. The inability to have the decks finished before the season, however, will restrict the impact that this project will have on congestion downtown this coming summer.

Construction of the dock was intended to begin in November 2017, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must review the project, and did not issue a permit until December 13, 2017. Shepler’s received their initial permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in September 2017, but authorization from both entities is required to begin construction. By shipping all the building materials to Mackinac Island, however, there is a chance that an early melt in March or April allows construction of the dock to commence.

The dock expansion is in- tended, in part, to improve the flow of traffic to and from the ferries. The proposed changes to the interior would reduce the amount of space available to passengers and carts, and without the completion of the decks at the head of the dock, this issue might only be exacerbated further.

The Mackinac Island Planning Commission tabled the changes Tuesday, January 9, until a Shepler’s representative can explain the rationale.

The Historic District Commission has approved the changes from its point of view, architect Richard Neumann noting, “The proposed revisions would all be functional and aesthetic improvements to the existing approved project.”

The two decks for passengers and luggage at the head of the dock are expected to accommodate traffic flow by keeping the terminal clear. But Planning Commissioner Ben Mosley said the space taken up by the ticket booth and staff room is needed for staging delivery carts, regardless of the new luggage deck.

“They’re still going to have to stage luggage carts at the very end, near the sidewalk,” he said.

Sometimes four or five carts are staged along the sidewalk at one time, he noted. Commissioner Jim Pettit, an employee of Mackinac Island Service Company, agreed that, regardless of additional storage space on the dock, the carts would need to be brought up to Main Street to be hitched to a dray.

Mr. Shepler told the Mackinac Island Town Crier he understands Mr. Mosley’s concerns, but that he does not believe it is in the ferry line’s interest to stage carts in that area anymore.

“Our interest is to store carts in the cart area on the new deck. We will keep the carts there and move them up when necessary,” he said.

Shepler’s has no interest in adding to congestion along the sidewalk in front of their ferry terminal, either, Mr. Shepler said, and the design has been developed and revised to ensure that the new space functions properly for passengers.

Several other commissioners questioned the necessity of moving the ticket booth from its current location on the dock. The ticket booth is used primarily by residents and summer employees to purchase tickets to the mainland, as most visitors will have already purchased a ticket in St. Ignace or Mackinaw City. Mr. Shepler told the newspaper the ticket booth has been moved for guest convenience and to reduce congestion on the dock. By moving the ticket booth toward Main Street, passengers will not need to walk down the dock for ferry information or to purchase tickets. This should reduce the number of people on the dock.

Commissioner Mary Dufina proposed moving the ticket booth to the opposite wall inside of the building, which would free up space along the sidewalk where luggage carts have been staged in the past. Other commissioners worried that doing so might cause a bottleneck at the head of the dock, as the ticket booth would then be across from the bathrooms. Anneke Myers suggested removing the staff room from between the ticket booth and the bathroom. This would increase the available space inside the building for porters to stage carts.

Mr. Shepler said this space is needed for lunch breaks and to store cleaning supplies. With the expansion of the bathrooms, there is no longer a place to store such supplies, which will now be located in a closet at the rear of the staff room. The previous closet had to be removed to ensure that the larger bathrooms were compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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