ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
The Delta Queen remains docked at Coolidge Park on Wednesday in downtown Chattanooga.

TIMELINE

* 1924 - Construction begins on Delta Queen in Dumbarton, Scotland

* May 1927 - Delta Queen and sister ship Delta King christened

* June 1927 - Both boats begin service between Sacramento and the San Joaquin River Delta

* October 1940 - Delta Queen begins service for the Navy in a variety of roles

* June 1945 - Delta Queen takes newly created United Nations delegates on tour of New York City

* December 1947 - Delta Queen bought by Cincinnati businessman for use on the Mississippi River System

* 1966 - Safety of the Sea law, designed to forbid oceangoing vessels with wooden hulls from carrying overnight passengers, inadvertently affects the Delta Queen

* 1976 - Delta Queen bought by Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of New York

* 1986 - Delta Queen begins sailing out of New Orleans

* 2006 - Majestic America buys Delta Queen, decides not to renew contract with Seafarers Union

* 2007 - Exemption to Safety of the Sea Law not renewed, allegedly blocked by U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota

* 2008 - Delta Queen completes last voyage, docks in Chattanooga for use as a hotel and bar

* 2013 - Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke attempts to evict Delta Queen

* February 2014 - An ice storm cripples the Delta Queen, and the boat stops taking visitors

* June 2014 - A group of investors led by businessman Cornel Martin seals deal to buy boat, return it to duty

* Dec. 2014 - Two Senate Democrats block a 15-year exemption to Safety of the Seas law that previously sailed through the U.S. House.

The echoes of a 2007 labor dispute still resonate in the bowels of the Delta Queen, which will remain shackled to Chattanooga's shore for the time being after an attempt to free it went awry at the eleventh hour.

After months of debate, the 113th Congress ended without passing a critical bill that would have allowed the Delta Queen to operate as an overnight passenger vessel for 15 more years, as it did before 2007.

"I think that it is what it is," managing partner at Delta Queen Hotel Leah Ann Ingram of the bill running aground.

Two Senate Democrats from the East Coast faced down the entire delegation from Ohio in a showdown over a battered paddle-wheel steamer that enthusiasts say evokes the glory days of Mark Twain-era river culture.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., used a move called a "hold" to effectively strangle a bill that would have resurrected the Delta Queen, even after an identical bill sailed through the U.S. House.

At issue is the wooden structure of the steel-hulled vessel, which the U.S. Coast Guard maintains runs afoul of the 1966 Safety of the Seas law. That law, which was originally targeted at oceangoing boats, also ensnared riverboats like the Delta Queen and its cousin.

The Delta Queen was forced to seek an exemption to the law every few years, until a dispute between the boat's labor union and owners in 2007 spiraled out of control and ended with U.S. Rep Jim Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat, allegedly blocking the exemption that year.

Since 2009, the boat has languished on Chattanooga's Riverfront, slowly deteriorating as the U.S. House and U.S. Senate debated its eventual fate.

An investor group led by New Orleans businessman Cornel Martin has worked with the U.S. Coast Guard and various officials, including Sens. Sharrod Brown, D-Ohio and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, to come up with solutions to the various objections raised by members of the Senate.

Blumenthal and Cardin cited safety as their reason for blocking the Delta Queen's proposed 15-year exemption, warning that the boat was a fire hazard that could mar the reputation of all steamboats.

But safety concerns were already addressed in an earlier amendment, which would have required the Queen's owners to replace 10 percent of the boat's non-fire-retardant material each year, according to the Enquirer.

Instead, supporters suggested that there was more at play in the bill's demise than passenger safety, perhaps even echoes of the original labor dispute that grounded the boat in the first place.

"I don't see that there is any legitimate safety concern at this point," Portman told the Enquirer.

Stay with the Times Free Press for more.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT