Bill would allow ship to sail

Published 12:02 am Monday, February 10, 2014

NATCHEZ — Supporters of the move to get the Delta Queen back on the nation’s inland waterways are pushing for lawmakers in the nation’s capital to again take up the measure that would allow the historic steamer to sail.

A bill that would have allowed it to take to the waters again passed the U.S. House 280-89 last fall, but the U.S. Senate has failed to move on the measure.

“It is time to act right now,” Delta Grassroots Caucus Director Lee Powell said. “The Delta Queen has an exemplary safety record, is a national historic treasure and brings tourist dollars and helps create jobs in the Mississippi Delta as well as the Ohio River valley.”

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The Delta Queen was forced into permanent docking in 2008 with the expiration of an exemption to the 1960 Safety of Lives at Sea Act — which requires, among other things, seabound vessels be built with fire retardant materials — that allowed it to operate. During its years as a touring vessel, it often stopped in Natchez and in other cities along the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys.

It is currently a floating hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The 176-passenger vessel was commissioned in 1927 and made of wood. In recent years, much of the wood has been replaced with steel, including its hull.

“We encourage the Senate to pass the Delta Queen bill as rapidly as possible because engineers and other steamboat experts have stated that the longer the boat sits as a floating hotel and does not travel, the more difficult and expensive it is to do the renovations, improvements and updates needed to get her back to cruising again,” Powell said.

Steamboat expert and engineer Jay Webster said the sooner the Delta Queen can get moving, the better.

“Like any machine, the lack of travel by the steamboat creates the need for improvements and renovations to get her ready for overnight cruises,” Webster said. “The steamboat cannot resume her travels without Senate passage of the Delta Queen bill, and the longer the boat sits in one place, the more expensive the needed renovations and improvements will be.

“No investors are going to buy the boat and make those major investments for the needed improvements and renovations before they even know if the Senate is going to pass the bill, giving the boat legal permission to travel again.”

The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently donated $2 million toward deferred maintenance of the Delta Queen.

The Senate measure is sponsored by Mississippi senators Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran and Louisiana senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, and has support from Arkansas and Ohio lawmakers.