published Saturday, July 27th, 2013

Delta Queen lays off kitchen staff on heels of key U.S. House Transportation Committee vote

The Delta Queen riverboat is docked Friday on the north shore of the Tennessee River near Coolidge Park.
The Delta Queen riverboat is docked Friday on the north shore of the Tennessee River near Coolidge Park.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

About the Delta Queen:

* Where: Coolidge Park, Chattanooga

* Built: 1927

* Rooms: 88

* Floors: 4

* Why can't it move? The 1966 Safety Law of the Sea forbids any vessel from carrying more than 50 overnight passengers if it is made primarily of wood. The ship lost its exemption to this law in 2008 amid an apparent dispute with the Seafarer's Internation Union and its supporters in Congress.

* What is about to change: Bills with more than 20 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle ain both houses of Congress have banded together to renew the boat's exemption to the Safety Law of the Sea act, which was previously modified by the Coast Guard to include the Delta Queen.

Source: Delta Queen, Expedia.com, news reports

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The Delta Queen has laid off its entire kitchen staff, hot on the heels of a U.S. House Transportation Committee vote that would allow the historic steamboat to paddle its way to Cincinnati.

The bill, which has 22 co-sponsors, was placed on the House calendar Wednesday to come before the full chamber for a vote. The steamboat's six kitchen staff were laid off that same day.

But Leah Ann Ingram, who operates the Delta Queen with her husband, Randy Ingram, said the layoffs have nothing to do with any pending sale or move to Cincinnati, where a group is bidding to buy the boat.

If the bill passes, it would allow the historic landmark to operate as an overnight steamboat based in Cincinnati, where it operated for years before relocating to Chattanooga amid congressional squabbling.

"We closed our restaurant down because it was a non-moneymaking proposition for us," Ingram said. "We just made the bold decision to stop serving dinner."

While she acknowledged that "it's a possibility" the boat's owners -- Colorado-based Xanterra Parks & Resorts -- have negotiated an agreement with Cornel Martin, who is attempting to purchase and refurbish the Delta Queen, she added that no agreement has yet been signed "to my knowledge."

Xanterra Parks & Resorts did not respond to a request for comment.

Yet rhetoric from Ohio's congressional delegation appears to indicate the the historic boat is already on its way out of the Scenic City.

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Westwood, called the recent committee vote "welcome news for the Delta Queen and Cincinnatians who want to see her on the Ohio River again.

"When the legislation is brought to the House floor for a vote, hopefully in the very near future, I am optimistic it will receive similar bipartisan support," Chabot said in a news release.

The Delta Queen originally was moored in Chattanooga when it failed to receive an exemption in 2008 to the 50-year-old Safety of Life at Seas Act, a law that prevents wooden ships from transporting more than 50 passengers on the ocean or through inland waterways.

Chabot, whose attempt to extend the exemption for the Delta Queen was voted down in 2008, has been working since then to get enough support to put the historic landmark back on the water.

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at esmith@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6315.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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