The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Bill Introduced by Cochran, Obama, Lincoln & Bipartisan Group to save Delta Queen

Posted on September 17, 2008 at 04:41 PM

Bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Senate today to keep the Delta Queen operating on the Mississippi River, with support from Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), and others. The Delta Grassroots Caucus commends these Senators as well as US Representatives such as Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR), Rep. John Boozman (R-AR), and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) for doing their part to save the Delta Queen, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is a symbol of the Delta’s legacy and pride in our region.

“We commend Senators Thad Cochran, Barack Obama, Blanche Lincoln, Representatives Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, John Boozman and Mike Ross of Arkansas, and many other bipartisan supporters of this bill to save a national historic treasure like the Delta Queen, which has an exemplary safety record, generates tourist dollars in impoverished places like Helena-West Helena and New Orleans, and as Arkansas Audubon and other environmentalists have emphasized, promotes support for preserving the natural splendor of the Mississippi,” said Lee Riley Powell, Delta Caucus director.

“In particular we appreciate Sen. Lincoln for her support for saving the Delta Queen, which again shows that she is not just talking the talk but walking the walk about fighting for the Mississippi Delta region. She is from Helena-West Helena, where the Delta Queen stops, so she speaks with authority on this subject,” Powell said.

Mayor Carl Redus of Pine Bluff said “It’s great that these Senators are supporting this national historic treasure that is an icon in the Delta, and the Delta Queen needs to continue attracting visitors for preservation of our region’s legacy as well as for economic development for generations to come.” In previous years the Delta Queen’s stops have included Pine Bluff, Little Rock, Helena-West Helena and many other communities in the region.

Mayor Thelma Collins of Itta Bena, Mississippi said “We should praise Cochran, Obama and all these Senators for supporting this national historic monument, and the Delta Queen ought to keep attracting visitors for preservation of our region’s legacy for the future.” In previous years the Delta Queen’s stops have included Vicksburg, Natchez, Greenville and Tunica and many other communities in the region.

Sen. Voinovich (R-OH) introduced bipartisan legislation, S. 3498, to continue the steamboat Delta Queen ’s 40-year exemption from the Safety of Life at Sea Act. The language is identical to that of the House bill, H.R. 3852, introduced by Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH) last October, with support from 31 Members in the House, including Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Mike Ross and John Boozman of Arkansas and many others throughout the eight-state Delta region from southern Illinois to New Orleans. It will allow the historic passenger vessel to continue in operation until November 1, 2018.

The current problem began two years ago when a new company bought the Delta Queen and kicked the Seafarers International Union off the riverboat. This union is influential in the Congressional district of transportation committee chair James Oberstar of Minnesota. Rep. Oberstar voted for the exemption as recently as two years ago, but changed his position after the union dispute flared up and has led the drive to kill the Delta Queen.

“We are sympathetic to unions, but saying that ‘okay, there’s a labor dispute so let’s kill a national historic monument’ would be like destroying one of the Presidential faces on Mount Rushmore if the National Park Service had a labor conflict with the employees at the monument’s snack bar. Don’t let special interest politics sink the Delta Queen,” said Arkansas Co-Chair of the Delta Caucus, Desha County Judge Mark McElroy.

The Delta Queen is the last traditional steamboat carrying overnight passengers on the Mississippi as well as the Ohio and other tributaries of the Great River. For that reason she has been designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1966, she was inadvertently caught in the technical provisions of the Safety of Life at Sea Act—a piece of legislation that was intended to cover ocean-going ships, not riverboats. Recognizing the difference between boats that operate on rivers, within yards of the shore, and ships that sail the high seas, Congress established an exemption for the Delta Queen in 1968. Since then, the exemption has been renewed nine times, in virtually every case by near-unanimous votes in both the House and the Senate.

Without congressional action, the current exemption will expire on November 1, 2008.

Maritime engineering experts have testified that the Delta Queen not only meets but far surpasses legal safety requirements. Jay Webster, a maritime engineer with three decades of experience in the US Army Corps of Engineers, formerly taught at the Maritime Engineering College at the University of New York, installed massive safety precautions on the Delta Queen from 1994 to 2001, and is currently a maritime engineer in New Orleans. He does not now work for the Delta Queen and will not lose a penny if the Delta Queen is permanently docked, and his only interest in this is for the truth to come out. Here is Jay Webster’s statement:

“While I was working with the Delta Queen, we removed tons and tons of wood and replaced it with steel. In the upgrade of the fire fighting and safety equipment on board the Delta Queen, American Classic Voyages not only met Federal guidelines, but exceeded them. If we were to compare these same systems, to what you will find on other steel vessels, in similar service, you will be hard pressed to find a vessel better prepared to carry passengers safely.”

Powell emphasized that the Coast Guard has repeatedly passed the Delta Queen in safety inspections. “The Coast Guard inspector, Marc Kruger, who is the Coast Guard’s top-ranking traveling inspector, has examined the boat 4 or 5 times this season and has taken a 5-day trip on the Queen. He has reported that she is in fine shape to continue in her present mode of travel for years to come,” Powell said.

Powell pointed out that “Unlike the Coast Guard traveling inspectors who have actually traveled on and spent a lot of time inspecting the boat, the Coast Guard bureaucrats in Washington, DC who know very little about the Delta Queen have always taken a narrow-minded, bureacratic view that ‘well it has some wood so let’s shut it down’.” Don’t be misled by that. Congress has overruled the Coast Guard bureaucrats for 40 years now and we praise Cochran, Obama and the others who are fighting to get that result again this year.”

Powell emphasized that “Everybody ought to understand that the Delta Queen is perfectly legal as it stands now. The ones who are trying to change its legal status are those who want to rescind the legislative exemption that has been passed for 40 years now in recognition of the obvious truth that the Safety of Life at Seas Act was passed to deal with seagoing vessels, and not a riverboat that is never more than minutes from land.”

The exemption has to be periodically updated and the current exemption expires in November.

Congressman Boozman said “The Delta Queen has long been a part of our nation’s heritage and I would like to see that tradition continue for the enjoyment of all Americans. The growing support for the Delta Queen from members of the Senate shows the importance of allowing this historic vessel to continue operating.”

Kevin Smith of Helena-West Helena said “The Delta Queen has been very important to the Helena-West Helena economy just as any tour boat does for any port, and we strongly urge our Congressional delegation to support this legislation.”

McElroy said “In their zeal to explain away why a law designed to deal with seagoing vessels–as the name states–Safety of Life AT SEAS Act–has any relevance to a steamboat on the Mississippi River, Oberstar and other opponents of the Delta Queen have had the incredible disregard for the facts to dredge up the explosion of the Sultana steamboat in 1865, when steamboats were far more dangerous than they are today, and when the captain foolishly allowed five times more people on the boat than were supposed to be on there out of sympathy for Union prisoners of war who wanted to hurry back home at the end of the Civil War.

It is factually erroneous, to put it mildly, to compare a Civil War era steamboat to the Delta Queen 143 years later. The Delta Queen was built in the mid-twentieth century and has had tons of safety precautions installed in the last 15 years–from a steel hull to elaborate sprinkler systems to coating all the wood in fire retardant materials to constant safety patrols and many other precautions. McElroy said “Most people can’t help but laugh when they hear that Oberstar and others tried to compare the Sultana explosion of 1865 to the Delta Queen of 2008, only 143 years later.”

Powell pointed out that even before the additional safety precautions were installed in the last 15 years ago, the riverboat was safe enough in 1979 for President Jimmy Carter to take an overnight cruise on her. “Would they allow a sitting President of the United States to spend the night there if there were the slightest hint of a fire hazard? Of course not. And the boat is even safer now than it was when President Carter traveled on it,” he said.


Rep Akin, W. Todd [MO-2] - 10/16/2007

Rep Alexander, Rodney [LA-5] - 2/25/2008

Rep Baird, Brian [WA-3] - 11/14/2007

Rep Baker, Richard H. [LA-6] - 10/16/2007

Rep Blackburn, Marsha [TN-7] - 10/17/2007

Rep Boozman, John [AR-3] - 3/11/2008

Rep Clay, Wm. Lacy [MO-1] - 10/16/2007

Rep Cohen, Steve [TN-9] - 11/8/2007

Rep Cramer, Robert E. (Bud), Jr. [AL-5] - 12/6/2007

Rep Davis, David [TN-1] - 12/13/2007

Rep Davis, Geoff [KY-4] - 10/29/2007

Rep Doolittle, John T. [CA-4] - 4/2/2008

Rep Ellsworth, Brad [IN-8] - 10/30/2007

Rep Emerson, Jo Ann [MO-8] - 10/16/2007

Rep Gordon, Bart [TN-6] - 2/6/2008

Rep Hobson, David L. [OH-7] - 11/14/2007

Rep Hulshof, Kenny C. [MO-9] - 10/16/2007

Rep Issa, Darrell E. [CA-49] - 5/20/2008

Rep Jefferson, William J. [LA-2] - 2/26/2008

Rep Kind, Ron [WI-3] - 10/16/2007

Rep Latta, Robert E. [OH-5] - 1/29/2008

Rep Lewis, Ron [KY-2] - 10/30/2007

Rep Pickering, Charles W. “Chip” [MS-3] - 4/22/2008

Rep Ross, Mike [AR-4] - 11/5/2007

Rep Schmidt, Jean [OH-2] - 10/16/2007

Rep Tanner, John S. [TN-8] - 11/5/2007

Rep Turner, Michael R. [OH-3] - 12/19/2007

Rep Walz, Timothy J. [MN-1] - 10/17/2007

Rep Wamp, Zach [TN-3] - 10/16/2007

Rep Whitfield, Ed [KY-1] - 10/16/2007

Rep Wilson, Charles A. [OH-6] - 2/25/2008