The National Trust for Historic Preservation has sounded the alarm about the Delta Queen’s future by placing the steamboat on its 2016 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
The annual list focuses on “important examples of the nation’s architectural and cultural heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage,” the trust said in its recent announcement. Fewer than five percent of the more than 270 sites on the list in its 28-year history have been lost.
The vessel, now docked in Houma, La., was named a National Historic Landmark in 1989 and a National Treasure by the trust in 2013.
“The National Trust believes the designation will raise awareness about the plight of the Delta Queen and help build support for her return to active service,” said Shaw Sprague, director of government relations and policy. “The Delta Queen has sat idle for more than eight years and deterioration is outpacing reinvestment. The best preservation outcome….is for the boat to receive the reinvestment she needs to provide a safe, authentic paddleboat experience on our inland waterways.”
Whether the boat will ever sail again is largely up to Congress where Delta Queen’s supporters have been pushing for legislation to 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.
The legislation is key to getting commercial financing for much of the estimated $5 million needed for restoration and renovation of the 1926 paddlewheeler 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.
A bill passed the Senate commerce committee just before the summer recess but hasn’t advanced since. “We’re hoping they’ll still take the legislation up this year,” said Cornel Martin, who with partners bought the Delta Queen last year for an undisclosed sum.
He also hopes the trust’s designation “will highlight the need to save the Delta Queen” and encourage Congress to pass the legislation “so she can be restored.”
The owners expected to have the boat cruising again this year. They planned to homeport her in Kimmswick, Mo., a small town about 25 miles south of St. Louis. But all the renovations would need to be done before she’s moved, said Martin, an executive with an earlier Delta Queen operator.
“The only way to maintain the vessel on an ongoing basis is for her to return to service,” he said. And if they don’t get the exemption? “We really haven’t played out a Plan B yet.”
Candidates for the list are selected based on “the national significance of the historic place, the urgency of the threat, and the possible solutions,” said Jennifer Sandy, the trust’s senior field officer.
Other places on the 2016 lineup include Charleston (S.C.) Naval Hospital District and San Francisco Embarcadero. See the complete list from National Trust for Historic Preservation.