Senate Preparing to Revive the Delta Queen

Wooden vessel needs an exemption, and the Senate's now set a vote

The Delta Queen riverboat, which has been in dry dock for years, awaits congressional approval for overnight travel on the nation's inland waterways . (AP Photo/Al Behrman, File)

Before the week’s headline Supreme Court debate, senators are poised to get the Delta Queen back cruising America’s waterways.

The legendary riverboat has been barred from carrying overnight passengers since an exemption to the 1966 Safety of Life at Sea Act for the largely wooden vessel lapsed back in 2008.

Lawmakers from Cincinnati to St. Louis have pushed for the Delta Queen to get a new lease on life since then, and the Senate has scheduled a Monday evening vote on passage of a bipartisan bill that would do just that.

“We’re one step closer to finally bringing the Delta Queen home to the St. Louis region where she belongs,” Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill said when the bill cleared committee. “Returning this historic steamboat to Missouri so tourists up and down the river can experience her rich history means both the restoration of an historic landmark and an infusion of economic expansion and jobs to Jefferson County.”

Sen. Rob Portman, who hails from Cincinnati, remembers the days whwn the Delta Queen was based out of his home city.

“The Delta Queen is an important part of the Queen City’s history. I remember riding on the Delta Queen as a young boy, and I am proud to be a part of the effort to keep it afloat,” Portman said.

The 2017 bill would allow ships like the Delta Queen to restore overnight passenger service in exchange for certain safety improvements.

The exemption lapsed in large part because of Coast Guard skepticism about the vessel’s safety that was shared by the late House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar, who in one debate likened the wooden Delta Queen’s operation to allowing a 747 aircraft to fly without having over wing exit doors.

The vessel was docked in Chattanooga, Tenn., after the loss of the exemption from the boating safety law, serving the city as a floating hotel until being brought to Louisiana for eventual refurbishment — if and when an exemption is restored.

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