WASHINGTON — Sens. John Boozman and Mark Pryor are backing a House-approved bill that would allow the historic Delta Queen to once again steam along the Mississippi River.
The steamboat is docked in Chattanooga, Tenn., where it has operated as a floating hotel since Congress in 2008 declined to extend a 40-year exemption to a fire safety law designed for ocean-going vessels.
After a series of horrific fires aboard international passenger ships, Congress in 1966 required all passenger vessels operating in the U.S. to be built of non-combustible materials. The Delta Queen, which is made of wood, had been given an exemption since it traveled on inland waterways.
The bill would reinstate the exemption from the requirement that all passenger vessels carrying over 50 passengers on overnight excursions be constructed with fire retardant materials. The exemption would extend for 15 years.
The House approved the bill last fall, 280-89.
Opponents questioned the wisdom of granting any exemption for a wooden vessel. Proponents argued that a modern sprinkler system has been installed on board and that the U.S. Coast Guard would still have a final say in granting it seaworthy.
Boozman and Pryor issued statements Friday urging the Senate to approve the legislation. They recently signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.
“It’s time for the Senate to take up and pass this bipartisan bill so the Delta Queen can resume her travels and bring much-needed dollars and jobs to the Delta,” said Pryor, D-Ark.
“By allowing the Delta Queen to operate again, we can create jobs and bring tourist dollars to communities along the Mississippi and its tributaries,” said Boozman, R-Ark.
Lee Powell, director of the Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus, said that prompt action is needed in the Senate.
“Engineers and other steamboat experts have stated that the longer the boat sits as a floating hotel and does not travel, the more difficult and expensive it is to do the renovations, improvements and updates needed to get her back to cruising again,” Powell said.