Boats & Barges

DQ Seeks Kimmswick Development Permit

On June 27, a bill favoring the Delta Queen, introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and supported by Missouri Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill passed the Senate Commerce Committee. It needs a full Senate vote, a House vote and the president’ signature to become law.

In May, the Senate had passed a Coast Guard authorization bill with an amendment renewing the exemption by a vote of 85-12. It was sponsored by McCaskill, a Democrat, and supported by Blunt, a Republican. A similar measure was sponsored in the House by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio).

The Delta Queen enjoyed a series of exemptions for decades until October 2008, when the last one ran out. Since then, a host of backers have sought to restore the vessel and return it to river cruising.

During the hearings, news emerged of previously unreported opposition to the exemption renewal from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). According to Roll Call, Benjamin Cassidy, the DHS Assistant secretary for legislative affairs, wrote to members of the House Transportation and Senate Commerce committees: “Because of the advanced age, construction and configuration of the steamer Delta Queen, the vessel presents an unacceptable degree of fire safety risk to its passengers and crew.” The letter was sent on June 28, 2017 but had not been previously reported until May.

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In addition, Rear Adm. Paul Thomas, the Coast Guard’s assistant commandant for prevention policy, told a House panel May 3, “We do not support an exemption for any vessel that would increase the risk, particularly of fire at sea,” according to Roll Call.

In June, the Jefferson County (Mo.) Port Authority asked the St. Louis Engineer District for permission to prepare facilities in Kimmswick, Mo., to support the historic riverboat. The permit application says the port authority “plans to revitalize a riverfront development site near Kimmswick…that was formerly used to operate steamboat cruises.”

The Kimmswick revitalization would consist of repaving and widening existing access roads, creating parking lots, restoring a formerly-used dock, and creating a bank landing. The bank landing would be an at-grade concrete pad on the shoreline “similar to the riverfront adjacent to the Gateway Arch [in] downtown St. Louis.”

One passage of the permit application says that the former dock “is intended to be the long-term docking location for the Delta Queen when it is eventually converted into a hotel.”

The permit application says the work would affect about 0.85 acres of forested wetlands, about 30 linear feet of a tributary, and 0.25 acres of Mississippi riverfront. The Jefferson County Port Authority says credits to offset the impacts will be purchased from the Land Learning Foundation.

In 2010, the Delta Queen Steamboat Company was formed with Cornel Martin as president and CEO. The company has modernized and refurbished the historic vessel. Martin had worked for the original Delta Queen Steamboat Company from 1993 to 2004 and was responsible for community and government relations. He spearheaded efforts to secure the last congressional exemption that allowed the Delta Queen to operate as an overnight passenger vessel from 1998-2008.

Repeated phone calls and emails to the offices of Martin, Blunt and McCaskill had not been returned by press time.

Correction: This story has been updated. An earlier version incorrectly stated that the DQ has a wooden hull. The steamer in fact has a steel hull.