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Great Lakes ship to be named after Oberstar

Interlake Steamship Co. has named one of its big Great Lakes freighters after former U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar.

The Hon. James L. Oberstar, believed to be the first laker named after a U.S. legislator, had been named the Charles M. Beeghly, after the former chairman of the board of Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. Beeghly died in 1999.

The boat, built in 1959, originally was named the Shenango II.

"The last time we changed a name was in 1989, after we bought new boats, so this is a big deal," Mark Barker, president of Ohio-based Interlake, said. "We don't do this very often."

Barker said no one is more deserving of the honor than Oberstar, who made the Great Lakes a priority first while serving on the staff of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and later as a member and eventually chairman.

"Jim Oberstar has been such a champion for maritime, for the Great Lakes and the mining industry, that his impact will never be forgotten," Barker said. "We wanted to honor him for his work and, now that he's moved on to a new chapter, the timing was right."

The 805-foot Hon. James L. Oberstar spent the winter in Detroit, but it will be back shuttling taconite ore -- about 31,000 tons on each trip -- on the lakes by March 26. The boat usually moves taconite from Duluth, Two Harbors, Silver Bay and Marquette to lower lakes mills near Detroit and Chicago.

The Oberstar is being fitted with its new name this week and a formal christening ceremony is planned for late May in Duluth, with Oberstar expected to be on hand for the honor, Barker said.

In a twist of fate, the Oberstar will make frequent passages under the John A. Blatnik Bridge that spans the harbor between Duluth and Superior, named after Oberstar's predecessor, U.S. Rep. John Blatnik.

Oberstar, 76, a Democrat from Chisholm, lost his bid for a 19th consecutive term in November when he was defeated by Chip Cravaack, a Republican from Lindstrom.

Interlake moved to rename the Beeghly after Oberstar in 2007 but was politely asked to reconsider, with Oberstar's office saying it wasn't appropriate for a standing congressman to receive such an honor.

The Duluth News Tribune and the Bemidji Pioneer are both owned by Forum Communications Co.