Death of riverboat hurts us all

Published 12:19 am Wednesday, November 11, 2009

“Besides, no one wants to have the last riverboat on the Mississippi River.”

This quote by the Grand Soleil’s attorney Kent Hudson says more than he intended. It is hard to imagine that a great era in American history quietly came to a close with little notice.

Nicholas Roosevelt piloted the riverboat “New Orleans” down the Mississippi River in 1811 ushering this vast waterway and the lands it drained to an economic explosion. From these humble beginnings arose a legendary transportation system. Everyone should read Mark Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi” to gain a full appreciation of its impact.

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With time, other commercial means evolved to solve the transit of goods, but riverboats remained a wonder on the Mississippi. Excursions allowed tourists to re-live the tranquil experience of travel by the rhythmic sound of a paddle wheel.

That is all gone now thanks to the unilateral actions of one man, Minnesota Democrat James Oberstar, who refused an exemption to the 1966 Safety and Sea Act. Apparently, this was done to satisfy Seafarer’s International Union which was in a dispute with a riverboat owner.

It is hard to imagine that such an important component of America’s historical heritage could fall victim to pure politics … but such is the case.

As a result, for the first time since 1811 no riverboats will cruise the Mississippi River. Furthermore, the economic impact of this loss of tourist dollars on communities, like Natchez, cannot be measured.

Where were the protests from the national delegations that line this vast waterway? Why was this allowed to happen behind closed doors under questionable circumstances? It is a sad comment on our times that a historic era could end and the greater good of communities that line a vast waterway could fall victim to pure politics. But such is the case.

Ron Chapman

associate professor of history,

Nunez Community College

Chalmette, La.; part-time Natchez resident