An Ohio woman who proclaims love for the Delta Queen wants to keep it from being moored at Coolidge Park.
Vicki Webster wants the public to protest the historic steamboat's application for mooring permits because she wants the vessel to continue to operate as a working steamboat, even though federal regulations prevent overnight guests on it.
"It's very important that we keep this boat on the water," said Vicki Webster, who says she's the informal leader of the Save the Delta Queen campaign. "This boat has a significant economic impact in 17 states. Docking it in Chattanooga is depriving everyone of its joy and economic impact."
Investors are leasing the Delta Queen and already have docked the 82-year-old boat at Coolidge Park. Plans call for it to operate there as an overnight hotel with 88 rooms, restaurants and a shop, according to filings with the Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"The upcoming issuance of permits to open the Delta Queen Hotel will enable this cherished National Historic Landmark to again be accessible to the public to enjoy," said Sydney Slome, a Chattanooga partner in efforts to open the Delta Queen as a hotel. "We are proud to have saved this national treasure from falling into disrepair."
Ms. Webster worries if the Delta Queen is used as a hotel, its historical qualities will be lost. She wants the Corps and TVA to consider the vessel's designation as a National Historic Landmark when rendering a decision.
"In a very real way, she will cease to be a boat and become just another riverside structure," Ms. Webster said. "It is virtually certain that the Queen's operators will need to make structural changes that, at best, will destroy the boat's historic integrity and, at worst, make it impossible for a future owner to put her back in operation."
TVA and the Corps must approve the investors' request for the permits before plans can proceed to add two docks and secure the boat for overnight stays in Coolidge Park. In the meantime, the Corps has approved the Delta Queen as an "attraction vessel," which allows limited visitors but no overnight guests.
Investors say they will maintain every part of the boat and ensure it can return to sailing if Congress ever allows it to.
Last fall, the 83-year-old vessel lost her exemption from the Safety at Sea Act, a 1966 law prohibiting wooden vessels from carrying more than 50 overnight passengers. Congress needed to provide an exemption for the boat, but that never materialized.