Low water prevents Queen’s city stop

Published 11:58 am Friday, June 15, 2012

The Mississippi River steamboat American Queen was unable to keep a date with Vicksburg Wednesday due to low water levels at City Front, officials said.

“It requires about 10 feet, and the depth was about 8½ feet where they land,” said Michael Hicks, spokesman for the Great American Steamboat Company, owner of the American Queen. “They said the water is at its lowest level (for this time of year) since 1988.”

The Queen remained docked in Natchez Tuesday night and Wednesday. Passengers were given the option to ride tour motor coaches to Vicksburg for the usual excursion trips to downtown attractions and the Vicksburg National Military Park, Hicks said.

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Hicks said he did not know how many passengers were on board.

Along with sister ships the Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen, the American Queen frequently docked at Vicksburg from 1994, when it was built, until 2008, when its previous owner went out of business. It is 418 feet long and about 89 feet high, with 222 staterooms capable of housing 436 passengers.

Great American purchased the boat in 2011, refurbished it and put it back on the river in April.

City landscaper and harbormaster Jeff Richardson said passenger riverboats have been prevented from landing at City Front in the past, primarily to keep it open for barge traffic to and from the Port of Vicksburg.

“It’s a commercial waterway, and they take up a huge volume,” Richardson said. “The last thing we need to do is clog up the canal.”

Water levels at City Front generally are higher at this time of year, he said, with the normal spring rise coming between May 15 and June 15. A warmer-than-usual winter and spring brought an early crest.

Officials with Great American Steamboat met with city and county officials earlier in the week, Hicks said.

Marie Thompson, the mayor’s coordinator of intergovernmental policy, said when City Front is not available the boat’s only option is to dock at LeTourneau Landing, which would be coordinated by the county.

Board president and District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale, who represents an area that includes LeTourneau, could not be reached.

District 5 Supervisor Richard George, who was board president last year, said Great American Steamboat officials asked the county last year about using LeTourneau Landing to dock during times when City Front was inaccessible.

County officials asked the company to notify them in advance so the public boat launch could be closed to all other traffic while passengers leave the ship. That notice didn’t come in time to accommodate the Queen’s current cruise, George said.

The Queen docked at LeTourneau in April because of low water in the canal, and passengers were bused into the city, George said.

The American Queen is next scheduled to dock in Vicksburg June 25, and Hicks said current plans are to keep Vicksburg on the boat’s summer itineraries that have the boat scheduled to be here Aug. 10, Aug. 30 and later in the fall.

Staff writer Danny Barrett Jr. contributed to this report.