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Final Vote In Congress Could Allow Historic Steamboat To Return To Service

Delta Queen

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Tuesday on legislation that would allow a steamboat built in the 1920s to resume taking passengers up and down the Mississippi River and tributaries like the Arkansas River.

A bill regarding the Delta Queen has already passed in the U.S. Senate by a vote of 94-to-6.

Lee Powell, executive director of the Delta Grassroots Caucus, has been advocating for the legislation. He says the steamboat resuming operations would create 150 jobs and spur tourism. But there would also be broader benefits, he said.

"It educates people about the history of our region, it exposes people to the natural beauty of the region because if you go traveling through the Mississippi Delta and the Arkansas and Ohio Rivers, it enhances your appreciation of our natural resources and tends to make people deepen their commitment to environmental preservation," Powell said.

He claims a company with a competing steamboat made false claims about the safety of the Delta Queen. Contradicting those claims, Powell said the vessel is not entirely made of wood and is not a fire hazard.

Legislation is needed by Congress to provide an exemption for ocean-going vessels, and after suffering some previous setbacks, Powell is hopeful that Tuesday’s vote will be the final approval needed for the Delta Queen to return to service.

Language included in the bill also mandates additional safety standards, Powell said.

"The new legislation adds many additional layers of safety precautions like new generators, boilers. The wooden part of the boat is actually only 25 percent of the boat, 75 percent of it is made of steel and other noncombustible materials. It had an excellent safety record and with all the new layers of safety precautions, there simply is no issue legitimately of safety."

Three U.S. Presidents have sailed on the Delta Queen: Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter, according to Wikipedia. The vessel was patterened after the era of steamboats associated with writer Mark Twain.

UPDATE: Later on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, the House approved the legislation by a voice vote. Pres. Donald Trump signed the bill into law a week later on Tuesday, Dec. 4.

Michael Hibblen was a journalist for KUAR News from May 2009 — December 2022. During his final 10 years with the station, he served as News Director. In January 2023, he was hired by Arkansas PBS to become its Senior Producer/ Director of Public Affairs.
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