ST. LOUIS (AP) — Missouri’s U.S. senators are renewing efforts to get the legendary riverboat the Delta Queen cruising again on the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
Legislation filed by Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Roy Blunt would reinstate an exemption for the Delta Queen to the federal Safety of Life at Sea Act, which prohibits overnight excursions on wooden vessels. The law was passed in 1966, but the Delta Queen was granted an exemption until 2008. It has been docked since then.
The bill would require the Delta Queen to annually modify 10 percent of the wooden portions of the vessel — mostly cabins and public areas. The hull of the Delta Queen is already steel, said Cornell Martin, president of the Delta Queen Steamboat Co.
McCaskill and Blunt initially filed the legislation in June, but approval was not granted by the end of the year. With the onset of a new Congress, the legislation was refiled this past week, a spokeswoman for McCaskill said.
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The 285-foot-long, 88-cabin vessel, immortalized in poems and songs, is in dry dock in Houma, Louisiana. Last year, the company opened a restaurant and gift shop in Kimmswick, Missouri, 24 miles south of St. Louis, and plans to move the riverboat to the Missouri site if cruising is allowed.
Plans call for having the steamboat visit more than 80 ports each year on the Mississippi and its tributaries, including Memphis, Tennessee, New Orleans and Pittsburgh.
Martin said he is prepared to spend about $10 million for renovations if the boat is allowed to cruise.
“It all really hinges on her getting to cruise again,” Martin said Friday.
The repairs could be completed and the boat could be cruising within eight months of congressional approval, Martin said.
McCaskill said the cruising riverboat would create more than 100 jobs and millions of dollars in economic growth and tourism revenue. Blunt said it would “allow more Americans to experience a taste of history along the Mississippi.”
The Delta Queen began operation in 1927. Its passengers have included three presidents: Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter. It served as a naval ship during World War II and is designated as a National Historic Landmark.
“She’s a legend, and she’s really our last hope to preserve that nostalgia, that history,” Martin said.