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.

Delta Queen Movement Wins Historic Victory--US House Passes Delta Queen Bill

Posted on November 26, 2018 at 11:46 AM

Delta Queen supporters won a historic victory on the night of Nov. 27, 2018 in our decade-long movement to allow the historic Delta Queen to once again travel America’s rivers—the US House passed by voice vote without opposition the Delta Queen (DQ) bill.

The Delta Caucus and other DQ supporters have been advocating for this legislation ever since the last required Congressional exemption lapsed in 2008—it has taken 10 years but we have now achieved victory.

With the House having passed the bill without opposition and the Senate passing it overwhelmingly by 94 to 6, President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.

NOTE: The Delta Queen has an exemplary safety record, extensive upgrades will add new boilers, generators, rebuild the paddlewheel, a system of state-of-the-art safety requirements, creation of additional exit routes, and the Coast Guard has to give a rigorous safety inspection (as it does all publicly operated vessels) before the DQ can travel one inch off the dock. Allegations about a “terrible fire hazard” are simply bogus.

Opponents often make the false claim that the boat is entirely made of wood, but this is bogus: the boat consists of 75% steel and other non-combustible materials. The wooden portion is only about 25% and will be further reduced. The boat has a steel hull and state of the art safety systems.

As expected, the bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate by a vote of 94 to 6 on Nov. 14.

The bill also adds a requirement for replacing 10% of combustible materials each year, thus adding additional layers of safety to a boat that was operated safely for decades on America’s rivers. Again, if the Coast Guard finds any safety issue, they will prohibit the boat from traveling until the issue is resolved, in the unlikely event that there is any issue after all the upgrades are in place.

The Delta Caucus asked our supporters to contact your US House representative and urge passage of S. 140, the Coast Guard Authorization Bill including language that will allow the Delta Queen to return to overnight cruise service, for a vote on Tuesday. The bill required a 2/3rds vote for approval, but we were pleasantly surprised by the unanimous approval.

The exemption is for the Safety of Life at Seas (our italics) Act of 1966, which as the name clearly states was intended to apply to ocean-going vessels, not a riverboat like the DQ which is never more than a few minutes from land.

The boat is a National Historic Landmark, and the bill has been endorsed by the International Seafarers Union, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the American Maritime Officers, and many other historical preservation organizations.

Allowing the DQ to resume its travels will preserve a national historic treasure, educate many travelers about the history of steamboating across America’s heartland, promote appreciation of our region’s natural resources with the first-hand exposure to the beauty of the region by travelers, create about 150 jobs, and generate tourist dollars in the ports where it stops.

Most importantly, passage will reward Cornel Martin and his team’s exemplary efforts to go above and beyond the call of duty by adding so many layers of extra safety precaution on the boat.

This does not require any taxpayer funding, but merely legal permission for the boat to travel again.

We commend the many Members of Congress in both Houses who have championed this legislation, including Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Rep. French Hill (R-AR), Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Rep. R-Ohio, and the many other members of Congress (too numerous to list here) who support this bill.

The center of opposition to the bill is led by a competing steamboat company, American Cruise Lines that operates out of offices in Connectict and also owns a shipyard in Maryland. They have complained that if the DQ is allowed to travel again it will harm their business, although there has been a major resurgence of steamboating on the Mississippi and its tributaries in recent years and there is plenty of opportunity for a number of steamboats on our rivers.

American Cruise Lines’ lobbyist has also made erroneous charges about the safety of the DQ, in spite of its excellent safety record over 80 years of being safely operated on America’s rivers and the many new layers of safety requirements in the legislation, the program of renovations planned by Cornel Martin, and above all the fact that the Coast Guard has to inspect the boat before it travels and will prevent it from traveling if any safety defect is found, until the issue is resolved.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Please note that the Coast Guard inspectors’ actions in approving the boat for travel over the decades was the true meaningful statement about the boat’s safety, and their inspections in the future if the bill passes will be the definitive action on this subject.

It is certainly true that when bureaucrats in Washington, DC at the US Dept. of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard of any other agency for that matter who know little or nothing about the DQ are asked slanted questions such as “There is this entirely wooden, old boat that is a terrible fire hazard called the Delta Queen. Do you think it should be allowed to travel on America’s waterways again?” Of course they will say “No.” But they are not informed about the facts of the boat’s safety record and the new upgrades, and again the only actors who matter are the Coast Guard inspectors on the rivers who do the actual inspections.

American Cruise Lines has several boats on the river now and one in the Pacific Northwest. Their lobbying firm is Blank Rome. Their CEO, Mr. Charles Robertson has spent well over a half million dollars over the last several years with the Blank Rome firm trying to defeat any effort to pass legislation to allow the Delta Queen to return to overnight cruise service.