TWO HARBORS, Minn. – The maroon and gold tugboat has been bobbing around the Lake Superior harbor of this North Shore town for almost all of its 123 years, escorting ships picking up iron ore bound for Eastern steel mills.
The vessel dubbed “Edna G.” — once considered among the finest tugs on the Great Lakes — has become so synonymous with Two Harbors that its image appears on signs lining the main thoroughfare, on the city’s website home page and even on the municipal liquor store.
But lately, the tugboat has been caught in a virtual tug of war.
Donated to the city in 1981, the boat needs extensive maintenance work and, as one city worker noted, the town’s 3,700 residents have about 3,000 different opinions on what should happen.
“There’s definitely dividing lines” among people, City Administrator Dan Walker said. “We know that if we don’t do anything, it’ll eventually sink.”
Battered over the years by waves and ice and aquatic bacteria, the ship’s steel hull is thinning — so much that it started leaking at one point a couple of years ago.
Volunteer Tom Koehler, who checks the boat regularly, noticed a trickle coming down its seam inside, with water building up in the bilge. A rivet head had rusted off, requiring an emergency repair by a diver to Epoxy the spot.
The boat is on the list of the National Register of Historic Places, and the nonprofit Friends of the Edna G occasionally opens it to the public for tours.
Built by Cleveland Ship Building in 1896, the 110-foot, coal-powered tug was considered state-of-the-art with its all-steel construction and lush, paneled captain’s quarters. It has been a mainstay in Two Harbors except for a stint moving war materials on the East Coast during World War I.
“It is my claim that this tug helped build America and helped fight her wars,” Koehler said. “I have a feeling for this tug which is not rational, but you’re talking about a boat here, so it doesn’t have to be rational.”
Dozens of ideas for its fate have been bandied about.
Koehler and others argue that in order to keep the Edna G. intact, it should be pulled out of the water and turned into a museum where people can see it inside and out. The estimated price tag for that is slightly more than $1 million — an expensive proposition for a city with a total budget of $20 million and a lot of infrastructure needs.
Others argue a tourism boat needs to live afloat and should be repaired in dry dock and put back into the water. Some estimate that the cost for that would be even higher.
Other ideas: Let it sink and make it a diving attraction; sell it to an outside group; build a retaining wall and drain the water around it every winter.
None of the options are cheap, officials acknowledge. The city sets aside some lodging tax revenue for boat maintenance. Right now, it has about $275,000 squirreled away.
“Ultimately, I think what the [city] council would like to see is some sort of group” take it over, Walker said. “We don’t have the capability as a city to do right by the Edna G.”
Some proponents argue that grants and fundraising could cover whatever money is needed to save the vessel and keep it nearby.
“I know we can raise the money,” said Hayes Scriven, who serves on the city’s Edna G. Commission. People just want a decision made soon, he said.
“It’s got a lot of history in the community,” Walker said. “Everybody’s got a story about the Edna G.”