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Fire-Retardant Materials Exemption Extentions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CHABOT. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in very strong support of H.R. 1961, legislation that my colleagues and I introduced to save the Delta Queen steamboat. And I want to particularly thank the gentleman from Missouri--St. Louis, in particular--my Democratic colleague, LACY CLAY, for his leadership on this particular issue.

This legislation is basically one line. It doesn't cost a penny, and it has two very important functions. It preserves an important piece of American history, and it supports American jobs.

Mr. Speaker, H.R. 1961 reinstates the Delta Queen's grandfathered status--not an earmark--the grandfathered status from a law that prohibits wooden boats--which the superstructure of the Delta Queen is. The hull of it is steel--for carrying overnight passengers. The Delta Queen is actually capable of carrying up to 176 passengers comfortably overnight; and under the law as it currently exists, 50 is the cutoff point.

Congress granted the Delta Queen a reprieve from this law for the last 40 years. So for 40 years, the United States Congress granted this exemption. It did so because she was constructed before the law was in place and because the law was intended for boats at sea, not riverboats--boats, oceangoing vessels at sea. It was never intended for river-faring boats like the Delta Queen. That's why the Congress granted this exemption for 40 years. The Queen's grandfathered status was uninterrupted for 40 years until management concerns stalled the continuation back in 2008.

Since Congress revoked its ability to operate, the boat has been chained to a dock. Discord and disagreement won that day; but today, hopefully, it will be different.

Today we have a renewed coalition of support. Democrats and Republicans have worked together on this issue. It passed by voice vote with no votes against it in the Transportation Committee; and maybe most importantly, the boat's new management and union are working together to return this vessel and the jobs she provides to full operation.

So this is a situation where management and the union are not fighting. They may have been back in 2008. They're not now. They're together on this. They're both requesting that we pass this particular legislation today so that the Delta Queen can once again ply the rivers--the Mississippi, the Ohio--and bring jobs to communities all up and down those rivers.

With all the gridlock in Washington, this bill is a welcome show of bipartisanship for a change. I wish we had more of that around this place. But this really is a bipartisan bill. It's supported by the Seafarers International Union, by the American Maritime Officers, and by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, for example. It's cosponsored by a diverse list of Republicans and Democrats, including the entire Ohio delegation, including my colleague--and I want to thank him for his leadership on this issue--Brad Wenstrup from the Second District, right next to my district, the First District, in the greater Cincinnati area. He has been a leader on this, as has Congressman Massie across the river. And as I mentioned before, Congressman LACY CLAY from Missouri and many other Members.

It also has the support of Transportation Committee Chairman Shuster on the Republican side and Ranking Member Rahall. And I would like to read a quote from the gentleman from West Virginia (Mr. Rahall), the ranking member, who was unable to be here today. Actually, I think he is driving here and will be here for votes, but couldn't make the debate. But this is what he said back in the Transportation Committee itself, and I am quoting here from his testimony:

``I'm in favor of preserving an icon of our American heritage, the Delta Queen. In light of the support that this bill has from the Seafarers''--the Seafarers Union--``and the fact that this means good-paying jobs and that a unique part of Americana would be restored to service, I support the pending legislation.''

That's the bill that we are dealing with here today. And in the past, this effort was even cosponsored by two men who rarely see eye to eye, Senator Mitch McConnell and then-Senator Barack Obama. Both of them supported this back in 2008.

I owe thanks to every lawmaker who cosponsored this measure. And I owe a special thanks, as I mentioned, to the gentleman from St. Louis, Missouri (Mr. Clay), without whose help this wouldn't be possible today.

To my colleagues who have raised issues about the vessel's safety, I hear you. Safety must always be a top priority. So let's discuss it for a minute.

This vessel is equipped with a fully automated environmental detection system that uses over 300 sensors to detect heat, smoke, and CO2, for example. It also has a state-of-the-art sprinkler system, a Coast Guard-trained and -certified firefighting crew, and round-the-clock watchmen patrolling the vessel 24 hours a day.

It should also be noted that the original legislation from 1965--and I mentioned this before--was intended for oceangoing vessels. That's why it was called the Safety at Seas Act, not the Safety on the Rivers Act. As a river vessel, the Delta Queen is never more than a mile from shore and can be landed and evacuated in minutes, if need be. Fortunately, that's never been necessary with the Delta Queen in its 80 years, basically, in traveling, and 60 years on the rivers of the Mississippi and Ohio.

So oceangoing vessels. We are talking about vessels that oftentimes are hundreds of miles, perhaps even over 1,000 miles, from land. In this case, we're talking about never more than one mile. That's why the Delta Queen is different. It was the only river vessel that this really applied to because of its size and the fact that it could take more than 50 passengers. That was the problem.

And to clear any misunderstanding, the legislation does not relieve the boat managers of their responsibility to deal with safety issues. In order to obtain a certificate of inspection, a COI, from the Coast Guard, the vessel will have to address United States Coast Guard concerns.

The managers already have a detailed list of things they know will need to be upgraded, which include replacing the vessel's boilers, in all likelihood, and steam lines with modern, fully automated, welded construction boilers and steam lines.

So the issues that were concerns back in 2008, which my distinguished colleague mentioned before, these are all going to be taken care of, and should be. Otherwise, we wouldn't be supportive of this bill.

This bill does not issue a green light. This bill unlocks the private resources necessary to make this multi-million-dollar restoration effort possible. At the end of the day, if the boat doesn't satisfy the Coast Guard, they don't get a COI, and they don't sail. They don't paddle. They don't move. They don't travel at all.

While objections on the grounds of safety are reasonable, I feel that safety may be a convenient argument, really, not a justified argument.

Let me close, at this point, by saying that the Delta Queen is beloved by many, particularly many Cincinnatians, who spent years watching her sail into our city to unload passengers at dawn and head out back with a new group of people at dusk. I think many of us would like to give her that opportunity up and down the Mississippi and the Ohio. Again, it means jobs for many people in many of these communities.

I ask my colleagues to join us in supporting this bill for two principal reasons, jobs and American history. Members can support this by voting in favor of H.R. 1961.


Mr. CHABOT. I thank the gentleman for yielding. I'll be very brief.

Mr. Speaker, relative to the Coast Guard's issues, their principal issue is the boilers. We all know that. We've always known that. The new owners are going to replace the boilers.

The Coast Guard has to approve this. If the Coast Guard has any opposition, all they have to do is not issue the certificate to operate the boat, and it won't operate. So the Coast Guard has to be completely satisfied before it safely goes out.

Relative to sprinklers, it has a state-of-the-art sprinkler system. So the safety issues, I think, are red herrings really.


Mr. CHABOT. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

Mr. Speaker, I agree with certainly some of the comments of my colleague from California. Safety is paramount. It's paramount to us, just as it is to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle both in support and in opposition of this legislation, and it is also to the unions and to the merchants and a whole range of people. The Coast Guard will ultimately determine whether it's safe or not. It cannot get a certificate to ply the waters of the Ohio or Mississippi unless the United States Coast Guard determines that it's safe. We agree on that.

Is the Delta Queen safe?

Well, the Delta Queen has operated safely for more than 80 years. In all that time, there's never been a fire that required any passenger evacuation--not one in over an 80-year period of time.

As a riverboat, the Delta Queen, as I mentioned before, is never more than a mile away. This was the Safety at Seas Act, as our colleague from Kentucky mentioned, that we're talking about. This legislation was supposed to apply to oceangoing vessels at sea, not the rivers. The Coast Guard more broadly brought in the rivers. And that's why Congress said, Look, we don't mean this to apply to rivers. So if it applies to any boats, any ships here on the rivers, then we're going to give them an exemption. There was only one boat it applied to that was big enough to have over 50 passengers. That was the Delta Queen, because it has a steel hull and steel paddles in the back and a wooden superstructure.

We have given this exemption for 40 years. From 1968 through 2008--40 years--Congress gave the exemption because we considered it to be safe. Now, it's going to be certified by the Coast Guard that it's safe before it ever goes anywhere. The Delta Queen will still be required, as I said, to get a certificate from the Coast Guard in order to move.

Now, let me read from a couple of those groups. We've heard from Members of Congress here. This is the Seafarers International Union, who had been opposed to this back in 2008 and who is now solidly supportive. Here's what the Seafarers Union said:

We write to express our support for H.R. 1961. This legislation would effectively permit the Delta Queen steamboat to return to operation as a river-faring vessel. While there is still much restorative work ahead before the boat can return to full operation, securing the congressional waiver is the first and most critical step in that path.

That's what this is all about: the restorative work--the new boilers, the new steam pipes. We are talking probably $10 million worth of restoration. But in order for anybody to put money into that, to make the ship better, to make it safe, etc., it needs this exemption in order to allow the private sector to get the money into the boat so that it can actually continue on the history that we've seen for many years in this country on this particular boat.

Let me continue with the letter:

This particular vessel has been a source of jobs for many merchant mariners over its tenure as an overnight cruise vessel, and it can be again. Unfortunately, absent the congressional waiver afforded by this legislation, these jobs will forever be lost.

That's what the Seafarers International Union said. The American Maritime Officers said:

``This legislation will help create the circumstances for the Delta Queen to return to operation as a river-faring vessel. The owners of this vessel understand they will need to make investments to improve the ship before she receives first approval from the Coast Guard to begin operating in regular service again. Passing H.R. 1961 will give those parties the assurance they require to undertake those efforts''--to spend the $10 million on the boat. ``Bringing the Delta Queen back in operation status is a worthy effort. It will help create jobs through work that needs to be done.''

These maritime officers wouldn't want to be sailing on a dangerous boat.


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