The historic Delta Queen is significantly closer to sailing again as the U.S. Senate voted 85-12 Monday for a critical exemption.
The long-sought provision 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.
“This is a huge step forward in our efforts to get her back on the river,” said CEO Cornel Martin, who with partners bought the Delta Queen in 2015 for an undisclosed sum. “I’m amazed that they would even consider the Delta Queen in the midst of everything going on in Washington.”
He’s optimistic about action in the House, which passed a similar bill 280-89 two sessions ago. If the House approves and the measure is signed into law, the vessel could return to overnight cruising in the spring of 2018, said Martin, an executive with an earlier Delta Queen operator.
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.
The 1926 paddlewheeler, now docked in Houma, La., will 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 Most Endangered Historic Places. The vessel was named a National Historic Landmark in 1989 and a National Treasure by the trust in 2013.
If she sails again, the Delta Queen would be part of a U.S. surge in river and coastal cruising that includes newbuilds as well as refurbished older vessels.