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House approves Chabot legislation to save Delta Queen

Washington, D.C., September 25, 2013 | comments
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The House of Representatives approved Steve Chabot's bill that would allow the Delta Queen to return to the river ways.
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The Delta Queen moved one step closer to sailing the Ohio and Mississippi rivers once again when the House passed legislation on Wednesday authored by U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) by a strong bipartisan margin, 280-89.

Chabot’s legislation, H.R. 1961, would allow the historic paddle-wheeled steamboat to resume operations as an overnight passenger vessel.

“Wednesday’s vote is a tremendous step forward for those of us fighting to save the Delta Queen,” said Chabot. “I hope the Senate will follow the bipartisan spirit displayed by the House and approve this legislation in the very near future.”

In 1966, Congress passed the Safety of Life at Seas Act (SOLAS) – a law that banned wooden ships from carrying 50 or more overnight passengers at sea. Although SOLAS was intended for ocean-going ships, the Delta Queen, with a steel hull and wooden superstructure, became subject to its provisions after the U.S. Coast Guard expanded the law to include boats operating on inland waterways. The Delta Queen was the only boat impacted by the expansion.

Since the law was never intended to apply to river-faring boats, Congress acted in 1968 to provide the Delta Queen grandfathered status under SOLAS.

From 1968 until 2008, Congress renewed this grandfathered status nine consecutive times, and the Delta Queen continued to safely navigate the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. 

Unfortunately, in 2008, due to concerns about the boat’s management at that time, the status was not renewed.

 H.R. 1961 restores the Delta Queen’s grandfathered status. 

 
Below are Rep. Chabot's remarks from the House floor:

"Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 1961 – legislation that my colleagues and I introduced to save the Delta Queen steamboat.

This legislation is one line. It doesn’t cost a penny. And it has two very important functions:

  1. It preserves a piece of American history;
  2. And it supports American jobs.

Mr. Speaker, H.R. 1961 reinstates the Delta Queen’s grandfathered status from a law that prohibits wooden boats from carrying overnight passengers. Congress granted the Queen reprieve from this law for 40 years. It did so because she was constructed before the law was in place, and because the law was intended for boats AT SEA. It was never intended for river-faring boats like the Delta Queen. The Queen’s grandfathered status was uninterrupted for 40 years, until management concerns stalled a continuation in 2008.

Since Congress revoked its ability to operate, the boat has been chained to a dock.

Discord and disagreement won that day. But today is different. Today, we have a renewed coalition of support.

And maybe most importantly, the boat’s new management and union are working together to return this vessel – AND THE JOBS SHE PROVIDES– to full operation.

With all of the gridlock in Washington, this bill is a welcome show of bipartisanship.

It is supported by:

  • The Seafarers International Union,
  • The American Maritime Officers, and
  • The National Trust for Historic Preservation.

 

It is cosponsored by a diverse list of Republicans and Democrats, including the ENTIRE Ohio delegation. It also has support of the Transportation Committee Chairman Shuster and Ranking Member Rahall. And in the past, this effort was even cosponsored by two men who rarely see eye-to-eye: Mitch McConnell and then-Senator Barack Obama. 

I owe thanks to every lawmaker who cosponsored this measure. And I owe special thanks to Congressman Lacy Clay of St. Louis, Missouri and Congressman Steve Cohen of Memphis, Tennessee who have been my partners in this endeavor from the very beginning.

To my colleagues who have raised issues about the vessels safety, I hear you. Safety must always be a top priority. So let’s discuss it for a minute.

This vessel is equipped with a fully automated environmental detection system that uses over 300 sensors to detect heat, smoke, and CO2.  It also has a state of the art sprinkler system, a Coast Guard trained and certified fire fighting crew, and round-the-clock watchmen patrolling the vessel 24 hours a day. 

It should also be noted that the original legislation from 1965 was intended for ocean-going vessels – THOSE AT SEA – not on a river. As a river vessel, the Delta Queen is never more than a mile from shore and can be landed and evacuated in minutes if need be.

And to clear any misunderstanding, this legislation does not relieve the boats’ managers of their responsibility to deal with safety issues. In order to obtain a Certificate of Inspection (COI) from the Coast Guard, the vessel will have to address USCG concerns. The managers already have a detailed list of things they know will need to be upgraded, which include replacing the vessel's boilers and steam lines with modern, fully automated, welded-construction boilers and steam lines.

This bill does not issue a green light. This bill unlocks the private resources necessary to make this multi-million dollar restoration effort possible.

At the end of the day, if the boat doesn’t satisfy the Coast Guard, they don’t get a COI, and they don’t sail. While objections on the grounds of safety are reasonable, I feel that “safety” may be the convenient argument, but not an honest one.

Let me close by saying that the Delta Queen is beloved by many – particularly my fellow Cincinnatians who spent years watching her sail into our city to unload passengers at dawn. And sail back out with a new group at dusk.

I would like to give her that opportunity again.

I ask that my colleagues join me in supporting this bill for two reasons: jobs and history.

Members can support both by voting in favor of H.R. 1961.

With that I yield to the Gentleman."


Delta Queen in the news:

Cincinnati Enquirer: House passes bill to let Delta Queen ply U.S. river again
Chattanooga Times Free Press: Long live the Queen: Delta Queen could sail again from Chattanooga within a year
Chattanooga Times Free Press: U.S. House of Representatives votes to exempt Delta Queen from the 1966 Safety of Life at Seas Act
Lexington Herald-Leader: Wooden steamboat backers in Ohio praise House vote

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