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.

New Effort Announced to Save the Historic Steamboat, The Delta Queen

Posted on November 19, 2010 at 01:32 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus endorses a new effort by the Save the Delta Queen 2010 coalition to buy the historic steamboat from the current owners, Ambassadors International, Inc.and put het back in operation carrying passengers on the Mississippi River and its tributaries, including the Ohio, Missouri and Arkansas rivers.

Currently the 84-year-old steamboat is serving as a floating hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Spearheading Save the Delta Queen 2010 are Robert Rintz, former Louisiana State Tourism Director and former Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, and Vicki Webster, director of the Save the Delta Queen coalition based in Cincinnati. Captain Clark “Doc” Hawley, former Captain and pilot of the Delta Queen serves as Captain Emeritus. The Delta Caucus wholeheartedly supports their new effort.

The Delta Queen was the last traditional steamboat carrying overnight passengers on America’s inland waterways. For that reason she was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1966, she was inadvertently caught in the technical provisions of the Safety of Life at Sea Act, which said that a vessel operating in US waters could carry no more than 49 passengers. The act was designed to cover oceangoing vessels.

For 40 years, Congress recognized that the law was intended to cover oceangoing ships, not boats that operate on rivers and thus are always close to the shore, and therefore established an exemption for the Delta Queen in 1968. The exemption was renewed nine times, in virtually every case by near-unanimous votes in both the House and the Senate. The last exemption expired on October 31, 2008.

The boat’s owners chose to lease her as a floating hotel, rather than operate her with 49 overnight passengers or continue efforts to reinstate the exemption. Now the company is soliciting bids from potential buyers, and Save the Delta Queen 2010 has responded.

“We enthusiastically endorse this renewed effort to return the historic Delta Queen to the Mississippi, Ohio and other major rivers of America’s heartland, primarily because because the vessel is a National Historic Landmark and has an exemplary safety record,” said Caucus director Lee Powell.

“In addition, while the amount of money the vessel’s travels used to bring to the region is relatively small, it did bring some tourist dollars to economically distressed communities along the river like Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, New Orleans, Louisiana, up through Missouri and east along the Ohio, and those areas can use all the economic help they can get,” Powell said.

Rintz said, “The Delta Queen is the last remaining example of the hundreds of steamboats that once traversed our heartland, weaving our nation together in the process. We intend to make her live again so that future generations have the chance to travel on this quintessentially American treasure, and so that river towns in 17 states can benefit from the revenue she brings to their communities.”

The current problem began several years ago when a new company bought the Delta Queen and kicked the Seafarers International Union off the riverboat. This union is influential in a number of Congressional districts, especialy that of Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, chair of the transportation committee, who was defeated for reelection this year. Many Members of Congress who voted for the exemption as recently as 2006 changed their position after the union dispute flared up.

Kevin Smith of Helena-West Helena, former state senator and aide to former US Sen. Dale Bumpers and Bill Clinton when he was Arkansas’ governor, said “The Delta Queen has a perfect safety record, and as far as being a historic icon it is every bit as much a landmark for the heartland of America as the Statue of Liberty is for New York. Steamboats helped settle this country, and the Delta Queen is a great way for people from all over America to see the great natural beauty of our region.”

Smith said “Our river communities in the Delta have many businesses that benefited from the Delta Queen and other steamboats that brought tourists to our river fronts, door steps and Main Street. In Helena-West Helena we had antique stores, restaurants, blues musicians, and many others who would benefit when a tour service with three or four Greyhound buses would pull up to see the elegant old Southern houses, the heartland of the blues music tradition and the community that Mark Twain praised in Life on the Mississippi as ‘one of the prettiest situations on the Mississippi.’”

Desha County Judge Mark McElroy said “The Delta Queen is the flag ship for the whole Delta region, and it would tremendously lift our spirits to see her plying the waters on the Mississippi again.”