(2008 Courier file photo by Ken Ritchie)
(2008 Courier file photo by Ken Ritchie)
CINCINNATI (AP) - Supporters hoping the historic Delta Queen steamboat will travel down rivers again say the U.S. House's approval of a related bill is a step forward in a long effort.

The measure that passed the House on Wednesday and a Senate version would temporarily exempt the National Historic Landmark from a ban on certain wooden boats making overnight trips with 50-plus passengers. Both measures would need more approval.

The Delta Queen once plied the Mississippi and Ohio rivers but has been docked in recent years as a floating hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Opponents say the wooden structure is a fire trap.

"Thousands of people have lost their lives in boats that were not safe, in boats that were made of wood," said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif. "Simply put, this is a bad piece of legislation."

Supporters say safety improvements would have to be made, and the Coast Guard would have to certify the Delta Queen was safe before it moves again.

Meanwhile, the boat is for sale. A New Orleans investor whose group hopes to buy the steamboat said that Cincinnati tops his list of possible new homes for it. A Cincinnati businessman bought the Delta Queen in 1946, and it was locally owned until 1985.

"It's been part of the Mississippi River history since the mid-'40s, and gives folks an opportunity to kind of step back in time and see America the way many of our ancestors saw her, from the river," said Cornel Martin of New Orleans, calling the steamboat a unique way to see America.

He said investors are also looking at Louisville and other cities.

"Clearly, Cincinnati is at the top of the list," Martin said. "She was there for 40 years, and I know they'd like to get her back."

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