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New owners moving national treasure to dock

The Delta Queen, a historical vessel, has been docked in Chattanooga since 2009. However, this Sunday, the riverboat will take to open water for a New Orleans voyage. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

The Delta Queen, a historical vessel, has been docked in Chattanooga since 2009. However, this Sunday, the riverboat will take to open water for a New Orleans voyage. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

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NATCHEZ — Natchez residents may have the opportunity to get a glimpse of the Delta Queen as it heads back to New Orleans from Chattanooga, Tenn., via tugboat.

The Delta Queen has been docked in Chattanooga since 2009, serving at one time as a restaurant and boutique hotel there.

Leah Ann Ingram, who lives in the Chattanooga area and is vice president, chief operating officer and part owner of Delta Queen Steamboat Co., said the Delta Queen will leave Chattanooga Sunday afternoon.

When exactly it will pass by Natchez is yet unknown.

“It all depends on how long it takes us to get through the locks on the Tennessee River. We are leaving here on Sunday and anticipate getting into the New Orleans area between the 31st of March and April 2nd,” she said. “We’ll know more when we make it to Paducah, Ky.”

Ownership of the Delta Queen changed hands in February when Cornel Martin of Thibodeaux, La., Ingram and several other investors purchased it from TAC Cruise Line LLC.

Cornel serves as president of DQSC LLC. He said the company’s intention is to preserve and restore the historic vessel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is classified as a National Historic Landmark.

“Our goal is to have the Delta Queen return to cruising America’s waterways in 2016 following extensive mechanical and hotel renovations,” Martin said in a press release issued after the purchase was finalized in February.

Ingram said the Delta Queen is headed to a dock near Houma, La.

“We still haven’t chosen contractors. All that is still up in the air. We are still in the very early stages of this. We just needed to get her moved,” she said.

The Delta Queen boilers, which were built in 1919, must be replaced.

“The Coast Guard in 2008 said those would have to be repaired and we are very prepared to replace those,” Ingram said. She estimated repairs and renovations on the vessel will cost about $5 million

Where the Delta Queen will eventually call homeport has yet to be decided.

“We have several cities showing interest, but we have not made that decision,” Ingram said. “Wherever homeport is, that’s where I will be moving. There’s still an opportunity for interested cities to be considered.”

Ingram said Martin, who at one time worked for the former Delta Queen Steamboat Co., “in its heyday when it was based in New Orleans,” is working on seeking a 15-year exemption to the Safety at Sea Act, which would allow the Delta Queen to cruise again.

“Cornel actually is the person who got the last exemption in 1997, which ran out in 2008,” Ingram said.

Chattanooga has planned a send-off party on Sunday. Passengers on the Southern Belle, an excursion boat, plan to escort the Delta Queen out of the city. The Southern Belle will board at 2:30 p.m. and plans to take off at 3 p.m., when the Delta Queen begins its voyage.