U.S. House to vote on Delta Queen bill


WASHINGTON — The U.S. House is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a bill that would allow the Delta Queen to once again steam along the Mississippi River.

The bill, which cleared the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in July, will be considered by the full House under a rule typically reserved for noncontroversial proposals.

“The Delta Queen is a rich vessel of Mid-South heritage on the Mississippi River and should be preserved for future generations to enjoy. I look forward to full passage of this bill and to seeing the Delta Queen operating on the river once again,” Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, said Tuesday.

The House had not planned to be in session this week but returned in anticipation of further action needed to keep the federal government operating when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. In the meantime, several bills have been put up for potential roll-call votes, including the Delta Queen legislation.

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 wooden Delta Queen was granted an exemption but Congress revoked it in 2008.

The steamboat has since been docked in Chattanooga, Tenn., where it operates as a floating hotel. Crawford is a co-sponsor of the legislation that would once again exempt the ship from the fire safety law.

Not everyone in Congress is sold on granting the Delta Queen an exemption.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., issued a harsh criticism of the committee vote last month, calling it “irresponsible” to put the desire to preserve maritime history ahead of public safety.

Garamendi said the committee had no idea of the vessel’s present condition and had seen no plans on proposed retrofits to address fire safety issues.

The most recent Coast Guard inspection report in 2008 found numerous deficiencies in the vessel’s condition and operation, and noted that the steamboat’s wood construction “presents an unnecessary and unacceptable accumulation of combustible fire load,” Garamendi said.