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Effort resumes to get the Delta Queen cruising again

The Delta Queen is currently docked in Houma, Louisiana.
Photo provided by Delta Queen Steamboat Company

Legislation that would enable the owners of the Delta Queen to return the historic steamboat to cruise service on the Mississippi River has been reintroduced by Missouri’s U.S. senators.

Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt say they are continuing their bipartisan effort to reinstate an exemption for the Delta Queen that was first made by Congress in 1966. The exemption would allow the wooden Delta Queen to cruise once again, even though it does meet requirements that passenger vessels be made of noncombustible material if they are carrying 50 or more passengers on overnight excursions.

Financing to renovate the steamboat hinges upon its ability to return to cruise service, says Cornel Martin, president of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, which bought the boat in 2012.

Martin says his company has funding sources in place for the nearly $10 million that it will to cost to renovate the steamboat before it can cruise inland waterways once more.

“The investors and the financial institutions interested in funding the project need for her to be able to cruise again in order for her to support that funding,’’ he said. “So, it’s all based on whether Congress will allow her to cruise again.’’

The company intends to operate the Delta Queen from Kimmswick, Mo., where it has established a restaurant and office.

For now, the steamboat is in dry dock in Houma, La.

“Once the legislation is approved by Congress and signed into law we can see the vessel cruising again within eight months,’’ Martin said. “We’re looking forward to that and hope it comes soon.”

The exemption was renewed nine times, Martin said. A previous ownership group allowed it to expire in 2008 when the steamboat was out of service. From 2009 to 2014, the Delta Queen was operated as a dockside hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn.  

On Tuesday, the senators reintroduced the bill, which had been approved by the commerce committee last session.

In a press release, the senators said the Delta Queen would create more than 100 jobs and bring in millions in economic growth and tourism revenue.

“I’m determined to bring the Delta Queen home to the St. Louis region where she belongs so Missourians and tourists in ports up and down the river will be able to experience the long and rich history of this steamboat,” McCaskill said in the release.

Blunt called the Delta Queen a national treasure.

“Expanding the Delta Queen’s operations will create jobs, support economic growth, and allow more Americans to experience a taste of history along the Mississippi,” he said.

The senators noted that the Delta Queen is fully compliant with all other Coast Guard safety regulations. The proposed legislation would require the owners to annually modify at least 10 percent of the wooden portions of the vessel’s superstructure to comply with federal safety law requirements.

Follow Mary on Twitter: @MaryDLeonard

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.

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