American Duchess docking at Kimmswick

A photo by Parker Good of the American Duchess docking at Kimmswick on Sunday.

A port facility in Kimmswick has passed its first test.

The American Duchess riverboat docked at the still-under-construction port Sunday, and all went well.

“It’s the first of many steps to come, but it passed,” said Jefferson County Port Authority Executive Director Neal Breitweiser. “This is the first time the dock has had any boat, and to have a boat that size dock at low water, it’s exciting to know it passed the test.”

While the American Queen Steamboat Co., based in New Albany, Ind., has yet to sign a contract to have its four cruising riverboats stop in Kimmswick and dock there, Sunday’s test couldn’t hurt.

“We’re still in talks with the American Queen,” Breitweiser said. “We have no contract as of yet, but I think from here we’re going to have some serious conversations to make Kimmswick one of their stops.”

Breitweiser said American Queen officials brought a motorcoach into the port facility, and made some suggestions to improve the road leading into the facility.

“We’ve already incorporated those suggestions into our plans,” he said. “The road, which is 20 or 30 years old, once it’s paved on Friday, will be like brand-new.”

Although plans call for the port to be the home base of the Delta Queen riverboat, the port can handle other vessels plying the Mississippi River, such as the American Queen fleet.

In August, the Port Authority’s Board of Directors awarded an $893,248 contract to XL Contracting of St. Peters to build the river landing and a road leading to it. The company submitted the lowest of nine bids for the project. That work, Breitweiser said, should be complete by June.

Breitweiser said with change orders caused by unforeseen circumstances – a reality in many projects, but particularly so when a body of water is involved – the project should cost just under $1 million.

That’s still less than the $1.2 million estimate from Hanson Professional Services of Maryland Heights, the engineering firm that drew up the plans for the project.

“During the construction process, while repaving the 30-year-old road, they unearthed a 43-space parking lot that was under silt,” Breitweiser said. “We had it cleaned up and repaved.”

He said a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be scheduled when the port work is complete.

Breitweiser said COVID-19 has thrown a monkey wrench into the plans for the Delta Queen, the riverboat that its owners say eventually will call Kimmswick its home port.

Delta Queen, an excursion vessel that was first put into service in 1927, is being restored in Houma, La., the current corporate headquarters for the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. LLC.

Company officials have said they plan to move their base of operations to Kimmswick when the Delta Queen comes to town.

However, Breitweiser said restoration of the vessel has slowed considerably because of the pandemic.

“Things were progressing on schedule before COVID,” he said. “It really ripped the carpet out from the project. The bottom dropped out of the riverboat industry once things started shutting down, and many of the investors dropped out of the Delta Queen.

“I’ve talked with the owners, and they’re in the process of lining up new investors, so they’re thinking it may be 2022 or 2023. There have been a lot of talks going on, and I’ve heard that other riverboat operators are starting back up soon, so that should help the Delta Queen get more investors.”

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