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Bills to restore historic wooden steamboat introduced in Congress by some Ohio members

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CINCINNATI — The historic Delta Queen steamboat could once again carry passengers on overnight river trips if Congress approves legislation recently introduced by Ohio's two U.S. senators and a representative from the state.

Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman introduced a bill last week that would clear the way for the wooden steamboat to return to the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Ohio Congressman Steve Chabot introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The 1966 Safety at Sea law prohibits wooden ships of a certain size from carrying passengers on overnight trips. The proposed legislation would require new safety requirements and grant a 15-year exemption to that rule, according to releases from Brown and Portman.

"The Delta Queen is an important landmark with a storied history of navigating the Ohio River," Brown said.

He said restoring the Delta Queen to river traffic would pump money into Ohio River towns.

Portman said the steamboat is especially important to Cincinnati.

"The Delta Queen is a true Ohio treasure and an important part of the Queen City's history," Portman said.

Brown and Portman say granting exemptions was a standard practice until 2008. An attempt last year to get Congress to exempt the Delta Queen failed.

The paddlewheel riverboat, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark, was owned by a Cincinnati company from 1946 to 1985 and later docked as a floating hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

It's now being renovated in Houma, Louisiana.

A private company that purchased the boat this year also is pushing for the exemption. The boat's owners have said there has been interest in several cities about becoming the Delta Queen's home port. The say some of those cities include Cincinnati, St. Louis and New Orleans.

The steamboat went into service in 1927 carrying overnight passengers between Sacramento and San Francisco and was used as a U.S. Navy transport ship in World War II.

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