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Monday, April 21, 2008

Steamboat Fans Pressure Congress to Save Delta Queen

The Save the Delta Queen Campaign is targeting the leaders of Congress this week in a last-ditch effort to keep the nation's most famous paddlewheeler afloat.

The grass-roots organization is bombarding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip James Clyburn with phone calls, emails and faxes in the hopes of gaining their support for legislation that would continue the historic vessel's long-standing exemption from fire safety rules. The exemption expires in November, and without it, the boat will have to stop sailing.

On Friday, the group delivered petitions in favor of the exemption to Congress signed by more than 5,000 supporters.

Congress has granted the Delta Queen an exemption from the 42-year-old safety rules nine times in the past, nearly always by close-to-unanimous margins. But the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation, Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., has been blocking a further exemption, calling the boat a fire hazard.

Built in 1926, the 174-passenger Delta Queen is the last traditional steamboat carrying overnight passengers on America's inland waterways, and it has a strong following among riverboat lovers. The four-deck, white-washed confection harkens back to a bygone era with its stately wooden cabins and cozy, hardwood-paneled public rooms. But it is precisely these historic charms that are causing the downfall of the paddlewheeler, since they do not meet modern fire safety standards that forbid wooden superstructures on boats that carry more than 50 passengers on overnight trips.

The Save the Delta Queen Campaign, meanwhile, argues that the 1966 fire safety law that is in question was intended to cover ocean-going ships, not riverboats that operate within yards of the shore.

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