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By Jim Armstrong
Sunday, Sept. 9, 2007

The Delta Queen soon may be making her last trip up the Ohio River. Unless Congress acts soon to exempt her from the provisions of the 1966 Safety of Life at Sea Act, her 2008 season could be her last.

The very woodwork that makes her a work of art is also that which condemns her. The law does not permit vessels with wooden superstructures to carry 50 or more passengers in overnight service.

But that law was enacted following a fire on the Yarmouth Castle, an ocean-going ship, in 1965, in which 90 people perished.

The Delta Queen, a frequent Pittsburgh visitor, does not go to sea. She is a flat-bottomed riverboat designed solely for our inland rivers.

She is never more than a mile from shore at any time.

She is protected by state-of-the art fire detection and suppression systems.

That the Delta Queen should be lumped together with sea-going behemoths is ludicrous.

This grand old lady of our rivers is a national treasure.

She is part of the fabric that binds us together as a nation.

She is the very last of her breed -- an authentic steam-powered passenger stern-wheeler of the type that helped foster our westward expansion.

The Queen deserves our respect and admiration.

The Delta Queen's real enemy is the committee system of the U.S. Congress that can be unresponsive to the will of that body as well as to the public will. The full Congress may never get a chance to even vote on approving her continued exemption.

Two powerful committee chairmen -- Rep. James Oberstar, of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Sen. Daniel Inouye, of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation -- effectively have taken the Delta Queen hostage.

These men have buried exemption legislation in their committees and prevented it from being sent to either house for a full hearing.

This is simply misguided and wrong.

We need less government intervention in our personal affairs, not more. It is not as though the Delta Queen is our only option for transportation. People choose to board this boat specifically for its historic value. If anyone is concerned about the safety of the Delta Queen, he is free to travel by another means.

Our legislators need to grant the Delta Queen a permanent exemption and put this issue to rest. Then they can concern themselves with more pressing issues rather than worrying about our potential fiery demise.

It would be a travesty to restrict the travels of the Delta Queen and deny the public the opportunity to enjoy this uniquely American experience for many generations to come.

Jim Armstrong lives in Gibsonia.

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