To the point week of 8/23/07

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A TRUE PIECE OF RIVER HISTORY is in trouble, and although it’s a longshot, efforts are underway to preserve history for generations into the future.

The “Delta Queen” steamboat, which has become synonymous with the Ohio River in the more than 80 years that it has operated on the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers; will see its final voyages in 2008 unless supporters can get lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to grant an exemption.

Technically the “Delta Queen” could still take day trips, it just won’t be allowed to carry overnight passengers; but in reality without an exemption, the “Queen” will no longer cruise the Ohio River – or any other.

Back in 1966, Congress passed the “Safety at Sea” act, which required all boats that carry overnight passengers to be constructed mainly of steel. The “Delta Queen” is primarily made of wood, so technically it should have stopped operating about 40 years ago – about the same time it came to Cincinnati to dock.

But because of its historic stature; along with the fact that the boat is never more than a mile from shore and that it has an excellent safety record – the boat has always been granted an exemption from the law.

That all began to change last year, when the “Safety at Sea” act was supposed to be renewed. When it was presented – along with the “Delta Queen’s” exemption – to the U.S. Senate, it didn’t pass, so it had to come back again this year.

When the bill was presented in June of this year, the exemption for the “Delta Queen” wasn’t a part of the bill; and the U.S. House of Representative’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed the bill.

Representative James Oberstart of Minnesota, the chairman of the committee, opposed the exemption because of the age of the “Queen” and it’s wooden construction.

Without the exemption, the “Delta Queen” will have to cease operations when its exemption expires in November of next year.

The Majestic American Line, the Seattle, Washington-based company that owns the “Delta Queen”, is not fighting for the exemption – but its also not opposed if the boat is exempted again.

That leaves the fight to those who love the boat and the River.

That leaves us.

“Delta Queen” cruising past the Switzerland County coastline is always met with dozens of vehicles and hundreds of people stopping to watch her roll by. There’s always someone on shore to return the waves from the passengers, and – in a community so closely tied to the history of the river – the loss of the “Queen” will also mean the loss of a bit of us.

But there is hope.

A website, www.save-the-delta-queen.org, has been established as a center for the effort to save the “Delta Queen”.

It is a private initiative to save the vessel, and in its “links” section you can go to steamboats.org, where you can sign an online petition.

It seems like such a silly decision; but this decision by Congress impacts the very nature of our history and our future.

Get behind the effort to save the “Delta Queen”. Go online and sign the petition; stay informed on the matter; and check the website to see what other things you can do to help.

The “Delta Queen” is an official National Historic Landmark. If any other such landmark in any other area of the country was under such attack; lawmakers wouldn’t stand for it.

Let’s make sure that they do stand for this.

It’s not a political one – it’s a historic one.