CINCINNATI - Supporters hoping the historic Delta Queen steamboat will travel down rivers again say the U.S. House's approval of a related bill is a step forward in a long effort.
The measure that passed Wednesday and a Senate version would temporarily exempt the National Historic Landmark from a ban on certain wooden boats making overnight trips with 50-plus passengers. Both measures would need more approval.
The Delta Queen once plied the Mississippi and Ohio rivers but has been docked in recent years as a floating hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn. It was a frequent visitor to Marietta,stopping on excursions up and down the Ohio.
"The Delta Queen is a national treasure," Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, wrote on his blog Wednesday. "Let's stay positive! The Delta Queen shall sail again!"
Opponents say the wooden structure is a fire trap.
"Thousands of people have lost their lives in boats that were not safe, in boats that were made of wood," said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif. "Simply put, this is a bad piece of legislation."
The boat has been moored since 2009. Supporters say safety improvements would be made, and Chabot pointed out that the Coast Guard would have to certify the Delta Queen was safe before it moves again.
"Safety is paramount," he said.
Meanwhile, the boat is for sale. A New Orleans investor whose group hopes to buy the steamboat tells The Cincinnati Enquirer that Cincinnati tops his list of possible new homes for it. A Cincinnati businessman bought the Delta Queen in 1946, and it was locally owned until 1985.
"It's been part of the Mississippi River history since the mid-'40s, and gives folks an opportunity to kind of step back in time and see America the way many of our ancestors saw her, from the river," said Cornel Martin of New Orleans, calling the steamboat a unique way to see America.
He said investors are also looking at Louisville and other cities.
"Clearly, Cincinnati is at the top of the list," Martin said. "She was there for 40 years, and I know they'd like to get her back."
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, has backing from Republican Sen. Rob Portman of the Cincinnati area and other bipartisan support for the Senate version.
"We need to return the Delta Queen to its rightful home in Cincinnati," Brown said.