The U.S. Senate commerce committee has approved legislation critical to getting the historic Delta Queen sailing again.
The bill — S.89 — would exempt 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.
“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,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D.-Mo., who co-sponsored the legislation with Sen. Roy Blunt, R.-Mo. Other sponsors represent Ohio, Louisiana and Arkansas.
Similar moves have stalled in the past. Legislation cleared the committee last year, and a McCaskill spokesman said they are optimistic they’ll be successful in this Congress.
A similar bill (H.R. 619) subsequently was introduced in the House by Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio. A spokesman said they hope they will have the same level of bipartisan support in the Senate as in the House, where it passed 280-89 two sessions ago.
The 1926 paddlewheeler, now docked in Houma, La., was expected to be homeported in Kimmswick, Mo., a small town about 25 miles south of St. Louis.
Last year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation put the steamboat on its 2016 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The vessel was named a National Historic Landmark in 1989 and a National Treasure by the trust in 2013.
The legislation is important for obtaining commercial financing for much of the estimated $5 million needed for restoration and renovation of the boat that has a wood and steel superstructure. The 176-passenger vessel, which had been kept alive with a series of exemptions, stopped sailing in 2008 when Majestic America Line shut down.
Cornel Martin, an executive with an earlier Delta Queen operator, and partners bought the Delta Queen in 2015 for an undisclosed sum and hoped to have it sailing again last year to take advantage of the renaissance in U.S. river and coastal cruising.