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Irvin return delayed, but DECC optimistic for summer reopening

The William A. Irvin is moored in the ice last December at Fraser Shipyards in Superior. The retired ore boat and floating museum is awaiting hull rehabilitation work and fresh paint among other maintenance and repairs. 2018 file / News Tribune

The return home of Duluth's floating museum, the SS William A. Irvin, is being delayed as the retired ore boat waits in line at the local shipyard.

"We're hoping we can have it back for July and August," said Chelly Townsend after confirming the original goal of a June reopening won't be happening.

Townsend is executive director of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, which operates the Irvin. The 611-foot vessel is moored along a seawall at Fraser Shipyards in Superior — not yet positioned into dry dock following the Irvin's move there last fall.

Fraser and the DECC are currently negotiating details of the work to be done on Irvin. The DECC has budgeted $650,000 for maintenance and rehabilitation work — including patches to Irvin's hull and new paint below the waterline on the boat. The DECC board will be asked at its meeting Tuesday to approve a contract for the work, and Townsend said she was optimistic.

The Irvin is usually berthed in the Minnesota Slip across Harbor Drive from the DECC.

Stationary for 30 years, the Irvin was towed across the harbor to Superior to much fanfare in September.

The Irvin is waiting as the 730-foot Tim S. Dool continues to be positioned in the Fraser dry dock. A spokesperson with the lake freighter's owner, Algoma Central Corp., told the News Tribune, "the Dool is expected to be sailing in early May."

After the Dool, the 767-foot Arthur M. Anderson will be put into dry dock for a five-year survey as it returns to active duty for the first time since being parked at the end of 2016 by Key Lakes Inc., the Duluth-based operators of Canadian National Railway's Great Lakes Fleet.

"We have been slated to be behind the Arthur Anderson," Townsend confirmed.

Fraser Shipyards issued a statement when it was asked about the schedule.

"With the end of winter layup and the start of the shipping season, Fraser is trying to get all of the work done for all of its clients completely and in a timely, professional manner," Fraser spokesperson Rob Karwath said in an email.

The winter offseason on the Great Lakes ended with the opening of the Soo Locks on March 25. The Dool is the last ore boat to remain docked of the seven vessels that wintered in Duluth-Superior. The rest are in circulation on the lakes.

The Dool received some of the same work Irvin is scheduled for — steel work, painting and regular dry-dock maintenance, Algoma said.

Townsend put on a brave face about the extended wait in line.

"Those are working vessels and it costs them a lot of money to be in dry dock," she said. "But it costs us a lot of money, too."

The News Tribune reported late last year that work on the Irvin was expected to be completed by May 15 — with the attraction receiving guests by June. That's not going to be the case now.

The News Tribune has reported previously that the Irvin usually accounts for about $225,000 of revenue for the DECC. It annually receives about 25,000 visitors in October for its Haunted Ship tours.

Last year, Irvin was closed as an attraction during seawall reconstruction and contaminant cleanup as part of an $11-million, city-led project in the Minnesota Slip. Transportation of the Irvin is included as part of that project. It cost the city $800,000 to remove Irvin with inches to spare through the raised Minnesota Slip Bridge and tow it across the harbor to Fraser in Superior.

Townsend said once it begins, work on Irvin is expected to take one month followed by the return tow back to the Minnesota Slip.

"Just like we did before," Townsend said. "We will have to wait for the right weather. It will have to be a very good day for it to be successful going through the bridge."

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