After years of trying, the Delta Queen’s owners have finally won congressional approval to get the historic steamboat sailing again.
The 1926 paddlewheeler, now docked in Houma, La., could be in service in 2020, adding one more vessel to the country’s growing inland river overnight cruise market.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Cornel Martin, Delta Queen Steamboat Co. CEO, said Thursday after the provision passed in the Coast Guard Authorization bill now headed to the president.
Next, they have to raise funds for the estimated $10 million to $12 million — and maybe more — needed to renovate the vessel. “We’ve been talking to folks for the last several years, and there are several tracks we’ve been pursuing,” said Martin, a current owner and former executive with an earlier Delta Queen operator. He has consistently said the legislation was important for obtaining commercial financing. “For me, it’s been six years in the making; for some of my other partners, it’s been 10 years.”
Now, he said, “we need to look seriously at opening a mechanism where people can book cruises.”
The long-sought provision exempts old vessels operating on inland waters from current fire hazard restrictions if the owners make annual alterations to at least 10% of the areas not constructed of fire-retardant materials. The 176-passenger vessel has a wood and steel superstructure and was kept alive with a series of exemptions before it stopped sailing in 2008 when Majestic America Line shut down.
The vessel will be homeported in Kimmswick, Mo., a small town about 25 miles south of St. Louis.
Two years ago, the National Trust for Historic Preservation put the steamboat on its list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1989 and a National Treasure by the trust in 2013.