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This is a story from the Save the Delta Queen organization. If you have any questions you can contact Phillip Johnson at [email protected] or call 844.668.4337
Delta Queen fans push representatives to approve exemption
For decades calliope music attracted many generations to the banks of the Mississippi River where they welcomed the overnight steamboat Delta Queen to the area riverbanks.
In 2008 the vessel made its final stop in the tri-state area, due to a federal maritime regulation that forced the 1920s-era vessel into retirement.
Now, thanks to pressure from the public, including many Delta Queen fans, Congress is reportedly close to approving legislation to help put the steamboat back on the waters of the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers.
“The best thing people can do now is just pick up the phone to call their congressional representatives and urge them to vote for this legislation,” said Vicky Webster with the Cincinnati-based Save the Delta Queen organization.
Webster noted the U.S. House of Representatives is considering a bill, HR 619, that would allow the Delta Queen to operate under a special congressional exemption to the 1966 Safety of Life at Sea Law act.
Identical legislation approving a renewed exemption for the boat was passed by the U.S. Senate on April 4.
The 1966 law prohibits any vessel carrying more than 50 passengers from operating out of a United States port if, like the Delta Queen, the vessel is primarily built of wood.
The 88-room Delta Queen, which had plied the American waters since 1948, was originally granted a waiver from the Safety at Sea Act and continued overnight passenger service on the rivers through 2008. But the exemption expired and was not renewed that year as it had been nine times previously, so the Delta Queen was retired to a mooring in Chattanooga, Tenn., where it operated as a floating hotel until 2014.
Currently she is docked in Houma, La where she waits for Congress to give her the exception so she can introduce a new generation to steam boating. When approved by Congress and President Trump the Delta Queen will go through an extensive multi-million dollar renovation according to Delta Queen Steamboat Company President and CEO Cornel Martin. “The goal is to complete extensive mechanical and hotel renovations on the vessel, including many safety improvements to address the Coast Guard’s concerns, and return it to service once the exemption is approved” Martin said.
Ohio 1st District Congressman Steve Chabot, who introduced the House resolution in January, hopes to soon bring the measure to the floor for a vote.
The resolution currently has 26 co-sponsors, including Iowa 1st District Congressman Rod Blum of District 1.
The measure is under consideration by the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.
Webster said efforts to obtain an exemption allowing the Delta Queen to return to passenger service on the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers has been in the works for the last 10 years.
“I think it’s finally going to happen, although we can’t make any assumptions about how the House will vote,” she said, adding that’s why the public should continue to urge representatives to vote for the measure.
Jeff Spear, president of the Sons & Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen, said he feels somewhat optimistic that Congress will allow an exemption for the steamship.
“Like the proverbial Phoenix, she’ll be back,” he said.
Spear noted the Delta Queen was originally built in California 1926, along with the identical Delta King, to make passenger runs between Sacramento and San Francisco. Cost of construction was nearly $1 million.
“During World War II they were used as ferry boats for troops that were headed out to sea,” he added.
In 1948 the Delta Queen was brought to Cincinnati by Capt. Tom Greene who operated the Greene Line of steamboats along the Ohio River. The Greene Line continued operation of the vessel through the late 1960s. Subsequent owners changed the Greene Line name to the Delta Queen Steamboat Company in 1974.
The steamboat operation changed hands several times between 1969 and 2008 when the vessel lost its exemption from the Safety at Sea Act.
“If (HR 619) passes, she’d be the oldest overnight excursion steamboat on the river,” Spear noted. “The boat does need some work, including a new boiler system, but there’s a good group of people working on it now.”
One requirement of the House legislation currently under consideration is that the amount of wood in the structure be reduced, 10 percent at a time, over a period of years.
According to Phillip Johnson, Director of Marine Operations at the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, the Delta Queen has an extensive sprinkler and fire detection system designed and installed to modern standard throughout the vessel. “The Delta Queen has maintained an impeccable safety record, the vessel itself having not been responsible for a single loss of life in her entire career.” Johnson said.
The Delta Queen has logged more than two-million miles carrying hundreds of thousands of passengers, including U.S. Presidents, British Royalty, and legends of film, music and stage.
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