Arkansas Online:

By Frank Lockwood

WASHINGTON -- The Delta Queen is one step closer to traveling the Mississippi River after a Senate panel endorsed legislation enabling its return to service.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has voted to support S. 1717, a bill that would exempt the historic steamship from the Safety at Sea Act.

The law prohibits passenger vessels with rooms for 50 or more people from plying the waters unless those vessels are made of fire-retardant materials. The steamboat, completed in 1927, is made of wood.

Currently moored in Houma, La., roughly an hour southwest of New Orleans, the ship will need between $5 million and $7 million in repairs before it's ready to carry passengers.

Work, paid for by the owners, will begin once an exemption is approved, boosters say.

"Steamboats like the Delta Queen are an important part of Arkansas heritage. By allowing the Delta Queen -- an iconic piece of American history -- to operate on our inland waterways again, we can create jobs and bring tourist dollars to communities in the Delta region," Boozman said.

The commerce committee vote "makes this goal one step closer to reality," he added.

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