Save the Delta Queen campaign


Here is the text of a letter sent by House Representative Steve Chabot which was read meeting gathering on Saturday:

September 20, 2013

To all those gathered,

First, let me apologize for not being present at today’s event. My work in Washington and in my district is keeping me away, but I applaud everyone gathered here for your commitment to this issue.

I would like to thank and recognize Randy and Leah Ann Ingram, Phillip Johnson, Cornel Martin, and each person that has worked so hard to get the Queen moving again!

The Delta Queen is vessel that will always have a special place in my heart.

For most of my life, she docked along the banks of theOhio River, where she picked up tourists and honeymooners eager to experience America’s rivers in a unique and historic fashion.

The Delta Queen is beloved not just by me, but by many – particularly my fellow Cincinnatians who spent years watching her glide into to our city to unload passengers at dawn. And then sail out with a new group of river farers at dusk.

It is very fitting that the “Queen City” would be home to the Delta Queen. And I hope she can return there once again.

This gathering has been a long time coming.

In 2007, I introduced a bill in the House to extend the Queen’s exemption. And in the Senate, this effort was cosponsored by two men who rarely see eye-to-eye: Mitch McConnell and Barack Obama. They don’t agree on much, but they agreed on this.

Unfortunately, discord and disagreement won the day, and the vessel lost its ability to operate.

But, that was then and this now. Today, we have a renewed and strengthened coalition of support.

When I reintroduced the Delta Queen bill this Congress, I did so with a bipartisan group of lawmakers who all sharethe vision of returning the vessel to full operation.

I owe thanks to every cosponsor of this bill, but I owe special thanks to Congressman Lacey Clay of St. Louis, Missouri and Congressman Steve Cohen of Memphis, Tennessee who have been my partners in this fight from the very beginning.

Senators Brown & Portman of Ohio, and Senators Landrieu and Vitter of Louisiana also deserve our thanks for introducing the bill in the Senate.

In addition to lawmakers, we also have a robust group of outside groups that understand that this bill does two very important things:

1.

It helps preserve a piece of American history

2.

And it will create and support jobs

So, I owe special thanks to the Seafarers International Union, the American Maritime Officers, and the National Historic Trust for their partnerships.

Soon the fruits of our labor will come to bear, as I am proud to announce that the House of Representatives will be voting on the Delta Queen legislation this coming Wednesday.

I am relatively confident in our chance of success, but weshould take nothing for granted.

The bill enjoys the support of both the chairman and ranking member of the Transportation Committee, but westill need everyone within earshot to tell their friends and neighbors to contact their Member of Congress andencourage them to support this bipartisan bill (H.R. 1961).

Let me close, by reminding everyone of something I think is very important.

The Delta Queen does not belong moored to a dock.

She belongs on America’s riverways.

And with the passage of this bill, that’s where she will return.

Thank you all and God bless!

Sincerely,

Steve Chabot

Member of Congress

We attended a gathering aboard the Delta Queen which included an exciting update from Cornell Martin (former Delta Queen Steamboat Company executive working to return the boat to cruising): The Congressional bill that would help open the door to the Delta Queen possibly cruising again is scheduled to be voted on by the House on Wednesday!

This is, of course the first step of many, but it is a step long waited for since the Delta Queen moored in Chattanooga in February 2008 to serve as a dockside hotel.
Former Delta Queen Captains Mike Williams and Gabe Chengary were also in attendance and shared inspiring words and lovely memories. Leah Ann and Randy Ingram shared the excitement. They are the current operators of the Delta Queen Hotel and leaders of the effort to return the vessel to cruising.
Track the Billy’s progress online here:

Within the last month, bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate which if enacted would renew the expired exemption allowing the steamboat “Delta Queen” to again cruise America’s Rivers without restrictions imposed by the 1966 Safety Of Life At Sea Act which restricted the Delta Queen’s wooden superstructure (the portion of vessel built above the steel hull).

Since 1966, this last remaining authentic overnight steam-powered paddlewheeler received numerous extensions to this exemption up until 2008 when the renewal lapsed as the boat’s then-owner Ambassador’s International ceased their riverboat operations as the company slid toward their eventual bankruptcy.

The historic vessel, a National Historic Landmark, currently resides docked in Chattanooga, Tennessee and is open as a bed and breakfast under a lease agreement with the boat’s current owner Xanterra Parks & Resorts. An investment team is working toward purchasing the vessel from Xanterra and hopes that the congressional exemption renewal could enable he boat to return to river cruising.

You can follow the progress of these bills online:

To follow Senate Bill 1022, CLICK HERE.

To follow House Bill 1961, CLICK HERE.

If the Delta Queen is a treasure that you would like to see continue to preserve steamboat history, certainly contact your Senate and Congressional representatives, the co-sponsors of the bills, and the members of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation and House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, specifically the subcommittee for Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

Stay tuned for further updates on these exciting developments!

Rep. Baron Hill of Indiana

Rep. Baron Hill of Indiana

This morning, Congressman Baron Hill introduced an amendment to the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010, H.R. 3619, regarding the necessary exemption for the Delta Queen to resume cruising.  In order for the amendment to reach the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives during consideration of the larger bill, H.R. 3619, the House Rules Committee needed to find the amendment germane and in order.  Unfortunately, when the Rules Committee met this afternoon they stated that the amendment was not made in order.  In response, Hill issued the following statement:

“This decision by the Rules Committee is simply one decision.  I am going to pursue other paths for getting the necessary exemption and seeing the Delta Queen back on the Ohio River.  While I’m disappointed with the decision, I’m going to keep fighting.”

To read Congressman Hill’s press release, click here.

Special thanks to Rep. Hill for his efforts. He had stated, “My perspective on the Delta Queen and its safety has evolved significantly. After speaking with various officials and the former captain of the Delta Queen, I am convinced it should cruise again.  To that end, I have introduced this amendment with the full intent of seeing this through until the Delta Queen is back on the Ohio River.  The Delta Queen is not only historically significant, but is a job creator and economic boon to the areas along its route.”

To read his release about his support of the Delta Queen, click here.

A couple of interesting notes about the Rules Committee’s decision not to allow Rep. Hill’s amendment:

The Rules Committee is a group of 13 representatives who wield the incredible power of deciding what amendments will be allowed to be attached to legislations. Those 13 members include:

Rules Committee Members:
Chairwoman Louise M. Slaughter (New York)
James P. McGovern (Massachusetts)
David Dreier (California)
Alcee L. Hastings (Florida) 
Lincoln Diaz-Balart (Florida)
Doris O. Matsui (California)  
Pete Sessions (Texas)
Dennis Cardoza (California)   
Virginia Foxx (North Carolina) 
Michael Arcuri (New York) 
Ed Perlmutter (Colorado)
Chellie Pingree (Maine) 
Jared Polis (Colorado)

Does anyone else notice that there is not one single member of this committee from a state touched by the rivers that the Delta Queen traveled on including the Ohio, Mississippi, Tennessee or Cumberland Rivers? Isn’t that amazing? This incredible power is controlled by representative of only eight states – and no state between the Rockies and the Appalachian Mountains is representated! Interesting. If you are a Delta Queen supporter and any of these are your representatives, please communicate your strong dissappointment in their decision.

An array of other amendments were added to the bill, including a lengthy array submitted by Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar, the Chairman of the House Transportation Committee. Congressman Oberstar has repeatedly stated his opposition to the Delta Queen’s continued operation. He cites safety concerns despite much evidence to the Delta Queen’s safety. To see and learn for yourself about the Delta Queen’s safety, watch the video here. To review the ammendments added to the bill, click here.

We are thankful for Rep. Hill’s efforts on behalf of the Delta Queen. She is a National Historic Landmark and the last operating overnight steamboat in U.S. history. She deserved the opportunity to operate, keep history alive, thrill passengers, provide jobs, and generate revenue for struggling river communities.

The evening ceremony was small but poignant. The boat docked within a secure area of the Port of New Orleans, so the general public did not have access to come down and share the festivities. We gathered with members of the local media and a representative from the New Orleans city government. Aching and feeling sick to my stomach, I gave the VIPs a final tour of the vessel. We then all gathered in the Texas Lounge for a small reception and presented the city with their plaque.

Captain Gabe Chengery and Captain John Dugger

Captain Gabe Chengery and Captain John Dugger

Honored guests included Captain Doc Hawley and Captain Gabe Chengery who both have served as Masters aboard the Delta Queen. Also attending was Scott Young who served as President of the old Delta Queen Steamboat Company back in the 1990s. Everyone shared stories and reminisced. Laura and I closed the party with one final performance of Delta Queen Waltz, the gorgeous song written by Grammy award-winning songwriter John Hartford, who also was a liscensed riverboat pilot.

As the party wrapped up and people drifted out, a heavy silence settled over the boat. It was agonizing and so we set out into New Orleans to locate sufficient distraction.

 

 

Captain Doc Hawley

Captain Doc Hawley

The next day (Nov 7) the final details were completed to pack her up and prepare her for her sleep. Many handshakes and hugs were exchanged as the last remnants of this precious riverboat family drifted away with the wind.

Early the next morning (Nov 8) the Delta Queen slipped quietly away from the dock and crept across the river where she sullenly tied up to the Mississippi Queen to await news of her fate.

I will always cherish that I was able to escort her along this remarkable journey.

–END–

Annie Lebeaux plays the final calliope departure concert.

Annie Lebeaux plays the final calliope departure concert.

The deck crew let loose her lines and the Delta Queen sounded her whistle. She made her final departure from Oak Alley Plantation and rounded gracefully downstream. Annie Lebeaux played a wonderful concert on the calliope as there were many out on the decks of the American Queen to watch the Delta Queen head downstream into history.

Captain Gabe Chengery, Laura, and I stood along the rail and watched the American Queen until we rounded the bend. Captain Gabe went to visit in the Pilot House and Laura and I turned to a few final tasks packing things away. For much of the ride down to New Orleans, we kept ourselves busy to distract from the flood of emotions lurking just beneath the surface. Finally, we gave in and sat out on one of the swings on the bow forward of the Forward Cabin Lounge and watched the final few miles creep by.

Rounding into the harbor we gathered once again with Captain Gabe at at the calliope as the Delta Queen made her entry into New Orleans harbor. Captain Gabe played a terrific concert filled with a greatest-hits of good old river tunes. He closed out with “Abba Dabba Honeymoon” which is a special song that Captain Doc Hawley used to play for him aboard the Avalon when Gabe was just a youngster. Gabe said he wanted that to be his final song on the Delta Queen. He then returned to the pilot house and graciously turned the keyboard over to me to bring her on in. Captain Dugger had asked us to cut off at the bridge, so I played a few of my favorites.

The last song played on the Delta Queen calliope was “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I wanted to close with that because I read in Letha Greene’s book that was the last song played as the boat departed Cincinnati back in 1970 when they thought it might be all over for the Delta Queen. Jane Greene told me it was also one of her dad’s (Captain Tom Greene) favorites. The song also is a New Orleans favorite, so I thought it very appropriate. I held the last chord as the echo resounded off of the bridge, and I swear to you, I had trouble pulling my hands off the keys. I just couldn’t let go. Emotionally, I’m not sure I will ever be able to. Playing the calliope that day, working aboard the boat, meeting so many incredible guests and crew members, have all been some of the greatest honors of my life.

The boat dipped down near Algier’s Point and rounded back upstream to dock quietly alongside the Riverwalk Mall. A few shoppers and diners in the food court stepped outside onto the mall’s balcony to watch. I wondered if they had any comprehension what a tremendous historical moment they were watching. Quite possibly the end of the Steamboat Era. I wished for a massive microphone and speakers to announce to all of New Orleans the sigificance of this moment. I wanted them to share in my utter and absolute deperation and dismay. I wanted them to cherish this boat and its history as much as I do. But they quietly turned and went back to their sandwiches and shopping. I thought my heart would burst.

Once docked, Laura and I distracted ourselves by slipping down to the crew mess for a quick bite of dinner before the busy evening of receptions, tours, media, and ceremonies would begin. The crew mess, usually boisterous, was solemn and silent. The few of us eating did so quickly and quietly. I wondered if the boat understood her days were ending. I have seldom felt such deep and profound sadness.

–END–

Some of these excellent media features have presented an air of finality about the Delta Queen’s fate. Don’t let the drama of the boat’s forced retirement next Saturday make you give up hope. Even after the exemption expires on November 1, a renewal by the “Lame Duck” pro forma session of Congress returning after the election, or even by the newly seated Congress in January can open the door for a new owner to market a late-starting 2009 season, or at the very least make plans for a 2010 season.

Without an exemption renewal the Delta Queen will not have a next season.

Congress is focused on developing solutions to the economic crisis. This gives a perfect opening to remind them that the Delta Queen is not asking Congress for any funding, just permission to operate. The Delta Queen directly employs about 150 crew members AND the boat benefits the local economies of dozens of river communities with tours and shopping.

Contact your Congressional representatives
Call, write, email, fax, go visit the local offices of your Congressional representatives. Fight for the Delta Queen!

Contact your local media.
As a news story or feature gains energy, many other media outlets get interested that previously might not have been. This is a great time for you to contact your local media and encourage them to do a feature. If you’ve traveled with us before, you can provide the local connection to a national story. Remember, there is no media outlet too small. Every cable show, local paper, small magazine, etc. has an audience that they reach. Every audience has Congressional representatives. They will all be needed to get this job done.

–END–

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