For the time being, the company is optimistic about getting the congressional exemption it needs to resume cruising the inland waters.
The company expects to move staff to the Missouri city within the next few months, said Cornel Martin, who with partners bought the Delta Queen in February for an undisclosed sum.
“They have a building for us to use as a corporate headquarters basically for a couple of years rent free,” he said. And there are plans to build a dock to accommodate the vessel.
Martin, an executive with an earlier Delta Queen operator, said they talked with a number of other cities about homeport possibilities for the 176-passenger boat now sitting at a private slip in Houma, La. “The Kimmswick thing just seemed to fit. They really, really wanted us,” he said.
“We’re very excited about it, and it’s very complementary to what we have here,” said Kimmswick Mayor Philip Stang. Construction would start “relatively soon” on a dock estimated to cost about $1.8 million that will provide “a good home for the Delta Queen and a good stopping off point for other boats,” he said.
Senators from Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana introduced legislation (S. 1717) in July to exempt old vessels that operate on inland waters from fire hazard restrictions if the owners “make annual structural alterations to at least 10 percent of the areas of the vessels that are not constructed of fire-retardant materials.”
A similar bill that passed the House last year but not the Senate gave the historic steamboat a 15-year exemption to regulations that require passenger vessels for 50 or more be made of fire retardant materials. Built in 1926, the steel-hulled Delta Queen with its wood and steel superstructure had been kept alive with a series of exemptions. Both the current Senate and House (H.R. 1248) bills are in committee.
The legislation is key to getting financing for much of the estimated $5 million needed for restoration and renovation of the riverboat that stopped sailing in 2008 when Majestic America Line shut down. — D.K. DuPont