I’m not overly sentimental for relics from the past. When it comes to the history of a place, my view is less sentimental and more “what have you done for me lately?”
But the last thing I want to do is use the force of government to stop other people from enjoying such experiences. Which makes this just seem ridiculous:
Barring a last minute reprieve, America’s last proper paddle-wheeled steamboat may disappear by the end of the year. For decades the Delta Queen has been one of the most magnificent sights on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, forging through the water as her calliope steam organ blasts merrily away.
But it looks as though the federal Coast Guard, applying the same regulations to riverboats as to ocean-going ships, will no longer allow the Delta Queen to carry passengers on overnight excursions. The problem is the wooden superstructure, the white wedding-cake of decks above the boat’s mighty hull. In 1966 federal regulations banned any vessel with wooden superstructures from carrying more than 50 passengers on anything longer than day-trips. Congress granted the Delta Queen an exemption because she is never more than a few hundred yards from the safety of the river bank should a fire occur. Since then, the exemption has been extended nine times. But probably not for a tenth.
The Delta Queen, based in Ohio, may not be the safest boat on the sea. But given some of the safety features incorporated (advanced sprinkler system, etc), and rigorous regular Coast Guard inspections, I see no reason why a National Historic Landmark such as this should be barred from operation in this manner. So who’s standing in its way? Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar, whose Wikipedia page describes him as something of a safety czar and nanny extraordinaire:
An avid cyclist, Oberstar has been a champion of creating trails for cycling and hiking to promote healthy living and more active lifestyles. In 2005 he authored and had passed the Safe Routes to Schools act, a $200 million program that helps school districts address the growing problem of childhood obesity by building biking and walking paths to schools, hiring crossing guards and promoting safety programs.
Yep, it’s all about safety. After all, 104 years ago, a wooden boat caught fire in a tragic accident.
In opposing any exemption Mr Oberstar cites the example of the General Slocum, which caught fire in New York harbour in 1904. More than 1,000 people were killed, making it the worst man-made tragedy in the city until September 11th 2001.
1904?! Saying that we shouldn’t allow boats with wooden structures today, based on an accident from 104 years ago, is like saying we should tear down the Golden Gate bridge as a result of the Tacoma Narrows failure.
Of course, there are more nefarious explanations, such as the fact that a Congressman from Minnesota’s “Democratic-Farmer-Labor” party just happens to be blocking the exemption of a boat that recently ceased it’s contract with the Seafarers International Union, a group which has donated to “Friends of Jim Oberstar”. But hey, I’m sure it’s all about safety.