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.

Urge Congress to Support Delta Queen Bill; the Queen Has Moved Back to the Delta

Posted on April 02, 2015 at 03:41 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus urges Congress to pass the Delta Queen bill after the major breakthrough caused by the purchase of the historic riverboat by new owners who announced plans to have the boat travel again. The new owners are now moving her to New Orleans for the refurbishing and renovations needed to get the boat ready to travel again after having been docked in Chattanooga as a floating hotel for five years.

Please contact your US senators and representatives and ask them to pass the Delta Queen bill to permit this historic steamboat to resume her travels on the Mississippi, Ohio and Arkansas rivers.

Today the famous boat is back in the Delta where she belongs and will arrive in New Orleans in a few days.

In the last session the House passed the bill by the wide margin of 280 to 89, but the Senate never brought the bill for a vote by full body. With the new ownership, this session the Delta Caucus is working with partners all over the country to assure the bill comes to a vote and becomes law.

“This is great news for the Save the Delta Queen campaign that Congressman Steve Chabot of Ohio has re-introduced the Delta Queen bill, after the new owner Delta Queen Steamboat Company (DQSC) bought the boat and announced plans to have her travel once again on the Mississippi, Ohio, Arkansas and Cumberland rivers,” said Caucus Director Lee Powell. “ A companion bill will be introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio in the next few weeks.”

The Delta Caucus praises Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker (R-MS), Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Sen. Rob Portman (R-OHIO), and many other supporters of the bill across the country.

Rep. Rick Crawford said, “The Delta Queen is an icon for our region’s rich river heritage, and I look forward to seeing her fully operational as she was for so many decades.”

Sen. John Boozman said, “Steamboats like the Delta Queen are an important part of our heritage. By allowing the Delta Queen—an iconic piece of American history—to operate on our inland waterways again, we can create jobs and bring tourist dollars to communities in the Delta.”

The purchase by DQSC removes a crucial obstacle, because the previous owners had no plans to restore the boat’s travels. The boat is expected to arrive in New Orleans in the next few days to a week.

The legislative exemption required to allow the boat to travel again regards the Safety of Life at Seas Act, which as the name clearly indicates (“At Seas” act) was intended to apply to oceangoing vessels and not to riverboats like the Delta Queen that are never more than a few minutes from land.

The exemption was previously passed routinely by Congress for 40 years until 2008. Then the boat was docked in Chattanooga for over five years as a floating hotel–which many believed was not the proper use for the famous boat. The new owners who purchased the boat recently agree and plan to resume her travels, unlike the previous owner. That removed the biggest obstacle to her traveling again.

The boat was operated safely for 80 years on America’s rivers, it has a steel hull, elaborate sprinklers and other safety systems that DQSC intends to expand and improve even more, and the latest legislation adds an additional layer of safety precautions to a boat that already had an excellent safety record.

The Coast Guard has to inspect the boat every time it travels, and the Delta Queen passed the rigorous safety inspections for decades and of course will have to pass inspection any time it travels in the future.

“The Delta Queen has an exemplary safety record, helps inform people about the great legacy of steamboating in our region, strengthens appreciation for the region’s natural beauty and preservation of the environment when people see the landscape up close, and allowing her to travel again will create an estimated 200 jobs and generate tourist dollars from New Orleans to Helena-West Helena, Memphis, the Arkansas River, and the Ohio River,” Powell said.

The bill is supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the International Seafarers Union, the American Maritime Officers, and advocates for American heritage tourism across the country.

Rep. Mark McElroy, Delta Caucus Vice Chairman, said “This year is our great opportunity to finally get this bill passed, with the new ownership and so much bipartisan support in Congress. We ask all our grassroots supporters to contact your Senators and Representatives and urge them to pass the bill. We’ll see the famous boat on our rivers once again.”

Helena-West Helena’s Kevin Smith, Delta Caucus senior adviser, said “We never thought it was the right use for a historic icon to be tied up as a floating hotel in Chattanooga, and we’re glad to see her back in the Delta where she belongs. We would love to see her coming back to Helena-West Helena and many other communities on the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers.”

The riverboat’s exemplary safety record is one of the most important reasons for the Delta Caucus’ support of the bill. The new owners in particular are going above and beyond the call of duty on this subject, to their great credit.

Supplemental Fact Sheet on Excellent Safety Record of the Delta Queen

The only time the safety record was debated in depth was during the 2013 vote in the US House, and supporters of the Delta Queen won that debate with the bill being passed by a wide margin of 280 to 89. Just in case it comes up again, here are the facts:

• The boat was operated safely on America’s rivers for 80 years;

• The boat has a steel hull, and in its recent history earlier in the 2000s over 50 tons of wood and other combustible materials were removed from the upper parts of the boat and replaced with steel and other fire-retardant materials. (There have been erroneous comments that the boat has a wooden hull and is entirely made of wood, but these are factually incorrect–again, the hull is made of steel.)

• The boat has state-of-the art sprinkler systems and many other safety precautions.

• The new ownership of DQSC led by Cornel Martin of New Orleans and partners in Tennessee plans to go over and above the call of duty and legal requirements regarding safety and will install new boilers and many other improvements to get the boat ready to travel again. Of course, these improvements are needed to get ready for resuming travel after the boat has been docked in one place at Chattanooga for so many years.

• The legislation includes language that in certain sections of the upper parts of the boat where there is some wood, there will be structural alterations of 10% of these sections each year. The Delta Caucus, the new owners, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and all other supporters of the Delta Queen were consulted by Senators last year and we told them that if this is necessary then we are fine with this requirement that adds an additional layer of safety requirement to a boat that already had an exemplary safety record.

Finally, the Coast Guard passed the Delta Queen in its safety inspections every time it traveled in its earlier lengthy history of plying the waters of mid-America. Of course, once again they will give rigorous safety inspections to this boat just as it does to all large passenger vessels.

With the boat’s excellent safety record, there were never any facts to support some of the opponents who made erroneous statements about safety. It’s a free country and people can say whatever they like, and all we ask is that everybody studies the facts and we get to the truth.

The boat will have to pass the inspections once again. There simply cannot be any safety hazard because the Coast Guard will require the boat to meet all safety standards before moving one inch from the dock. If at some hypothetical point in the future the Coast Guard discovers some safety concern, they will of course order the boat not to travel until they correct the problem. This did not happen in the past, but the point is that the Coast Guard rigorously inspects all large passenger boats and they will not allow them to cruise if there is any question about safety.

International ocean-going ships are in an entirely different category and they do have safety concerns, as we all know from terrible accidents in recent years. But this is a riverboat that was safely operated for many decades.