2014-05-22 / News

On Mackinac Island, Companies Work Together to Devise New System for Deliveries

Tons of Supplies for Restaurants and Hotels Brought To Busy Docks Daily, Along With Ferry Passengers
By Macaela Bennett
Mackinac Island Town Crier

A new system for delivering freight on Mackinac Island is being coordinated this spring, as Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry has stepped in as the Island’s primary freight hauler for the first time. With longtime freight hauler Arnold Transit undergoing the uncertainties of a company restructuring this year, Shepler’s was the first company to break its freight boat free from the ice in April, and it began responding to a pent-up demand for ferry freight deliveries caused by the prolonged winter ice. Arnold Transit is also offering freight deliveries now, but with Shepler’s picking up much of the demand, concentrating deliveries at its dock on Main Street downtown, alongside passengers boarding and disembarking, has led to congestion concerns there. The Beaver Dock at the east end of the Island, owned by Mission Point Resort, will become a second freight delivery point under a special temporary arrangement between the resort and city.

Shepler’s is developing the process of loading and unloading both people and freight from its central location, and the company is working with Mackinac Island Service Company, which hauls freight from the docks to its destinations.

“It’s confusing down there and awfully jammed up,” said Mike Hart, Mackinac Island Service Company freight coordinator. “You have lots of loading and unloading on Main Street where there are pedestrians, horses, and bikes, and it adds a lot of congestion.”

While the location poses problems, Shepler’s President Chris Shepler said he and the Service Company work together to ensure everyone remains safe.

“It’s organized chaos when mixing passengers and freight down there,” Mr. Shepler said. “When you’re unloading the majority of the Island’s freight, it becomes crowded quickly because of the drays lined up, and the road narrows right in front of us and Hoban [Street] opens in front of us. But there’s never a safety concern, because we always unload passengers and freight separate.”

Service Company Manager Jim Roe plays a major role in helping Shepler’s organize its freight, Mr. Shepler said, so employees can efficiently load it on the boat and unload it onto drays.

“Jim Roe is amazing. He keeps his cool and makes sure everything’s organized and running,” Mr. Shepler said, adding that they rely on constant communication about loads, timing, and destinations. “We load it accordingly and things come off in a sequence that Jim wants to have, so he can turn left or right based on what he has on board. He’s thinking five steps ahead of how things will get to where they need to go, and when it will come back. It’s a huge logistic thing that he does, and he does it every day.”

The Service Company’s process for unloading freight includes lining up the drays past the former Mackinac Island Bike Shop, Mr. Roe said, calling them up one at a time to load, and then delivering the load to its destination.

“We want to move the freight as fast as possible, and that’s what we’re about,” he said.

Deliveries for hotels, restaurants, and retail businesses can include perishable food and supplies that are needed immediately. Mr. Roe added that everyone has been understanding of any delays caused by adapting to the new process.

Although the Service Company has always worked with Shepler’s and the other two boat lines, Arnold Transit and Star Line, the two companies formed a tighter relationship this spring as Shepler’s fulfills the bulk of the Island’s freight-hauling needs.

“Last year, I had one or two drays at Shepler’s, but now I have almost all of them, but one or two, there,” Mr. Roe said. “It’s switched this year.”

Shepler’s increased its number of trips to the Island, amount of fuel, and number of hours worked by approximately

70% to accommodate hauling the freight.

The Service Company also increased its manpower.

“We have at least two extra flatbed drivers on the road than is usual for this time of year,” Mr. Roe said.

While boats began running in February last year, this winter’s conditions caused a delay of almost two months.

“We’ve been spoiled for so many years with mild springs where boats began running early, and then this year, boats weren’t even running when they’re supposed to run,” Mr. Roe said. “It’s slammed us.”

Despite the challenges resulting from the weather and changing roles for freight hauling, Mr. Roe and Mr. Shepler say they will work to ensure Mackinac Island stays supplied.

“We never cannot handle it,” Mr. Roe said. “We’ll be here into the night to get it done. We keep going until it’s done.”

Mr. Shepler shares this conviction.

“We’ve run every day since we got the Sacre Bleu through the ice, and we’ve been making extra trips, taking extra people—extra everything— since then. We did whatever needed to be done, and we’re continuing to do that now,” Mr. Shepler said. “On the weekends, I try and give my employees some time off, and I get calls on my cell phone asking if I can take a load and I say, ‘Yes, absolutely. I’m all yours.’”

The company, he said, did not plan to step in as the primary freight hauler this spring, but simply responded to the need.

“It just happened. We didn’t know what to expect, but we acted on the fly, and we took good notes so we know what to do better next time, too,” Mr. Shepler said.

All three boat lines, Star Line, Arnold Transit, and Shepler’s, are operating passenger service to the Island.

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