Thursday, November 29, 2018

Congress lets historic riverboat ply rivers again, after fixup

The Delta Queen was docked at Coolidge Park in Chattanooga until 2015. (Photo contributed to Times Free Press)
The historic Delta Queen will once again ply the rivers after the U.S. House reauthorized its operation in a Coast Guard bill Tuesday night. The sternwheeler is expected to begin passenger trips on the Mississippi, Arkansas and Ohio rivers in 2020 after $10 million to $12 million in renovations.

Christened in 1927, the partly wooden boat was docked in Chattanooga as a stationary bar and hotel in 2008 after its federal fire-safety exemption expired. It stopped taking passengers after damage from a 2014 ice storm, Mike Pare reports for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. In 2015 local preservationists and business people formed the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. and bought it, hoping to repair it and get the exemption renewed. The boat is currently docked in Houma, La.

CEO Cornel Martin said the upgrades will include new boilers, generators, rebuilding the paddlewheel and adding more exit routes. The bill requires 10 percent of the wooden or other combustible parts of the boat to be replaced with non-combustible materials each year, according to the Mississippi Delta Grass Roots Caucus, which lobbied for it.

Chattanooga city leaders are lauding the vote, saying that the Delta Queen will help attract well-heeled tourists to the city. And Shaw Sprague, senior director of government relations for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said the boat is historically significant and "connects citizens to our proud maritime past," Pare reports.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation designated the Delta Queen as a National Treasure recently. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark. "It represents the last vestige of the sternwheel steamboat maritime heritage," he said. "There's nothing like the Delta Queen actively traveling the inland river system," said Shaw Sprague, the trust's senior director of government relations.

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