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Saving the Delta Queen: One last chance

| Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Delta Queen hasn't docked in Pittsburgh in years, idled in 2009 by majority congressional Democrats' refusal to renew a safety exemption needed for overnight passenger service. That's because its then-owners wouldn't negotiate with the Seafarers International Union.

Now, Senate Democrats must act for Delta Queen cruises to resume before a March deadline for the steamboat to vacate a Chattanooga, Tenn., dock where it's become a floating hotel.

A rent dispute has Chattanooga's mayor determined to evict the steamboat, The New York Times reports. But investors headed by a former Delta Queen employee want to buy, refurbish and return the wooden-superstructure steamboat to passenger service. Legislation to renew the needed exemption was introduced in May.

The House version, sponsored by Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, passed on Sept. 25, 280-89. But the Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, remains stalled in that Democrat-controlled chamber's Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

A congressional source says no union issue with the Delta Queen's prospective new owners now blocks the exemption. That makes the Senate committee's inaction all the more puzzling.

The Delta Queen, a magnificent example of 1920s workmanship, oozes 19th-century charm. If Senate Democrats won't allow it to once again cruise inland waterways, they will have done a disservice to a piece of Americana too significant to abandon.

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