SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The owner of a Willamette River sternwheeler says an overly stern bureaucracy could turn his cruise operation into a floating restaurant by the first of the year.
The U.S. Coast Guard and Richard Chesbrough of the Willamette Queen can't agree on terms for the vessel to meet a Dec. 31 deadline for an inspection that has been complicated by the closure of the Willamette Falls locks at Oregon City upriver of Portland, the Salem Statesman Journal reported.
There's also a difference between the Coast Guard and Chesbrough about the fiberglass hull of the Willamette Queen.
The sternwheeler is a fixture on Salem's portion of the Willamette River and often docks at Riverfront Park in downtown Salem. It offers river cruises that include sightseeing, lunch and dinner, drawing 10,000 to 15,000 passengers a year.
It's also booked for weddings — six next spring.
"There are some brides on pins and needles," Chesbrough said.
The vessel is due for a hull inspection at Portland. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2011 closed the locks between Portland and Salem until $5 million can be raised to repair corrosion of the anchors that hold the gates in place.
The corps said boats can go through if they are unmanned and the owner signs an insurance waiver. Chesbrough said his insurer would not agree to that.
When vessels can't get to a dry dock, the Coast Guard can make arrangements to have a specialist come to the boat and inspect it in the water. But the federal regulations allow that only for boats that have hulls made of steel or aluminum.
"Divers would be unable to detect specific problems with fiberglass or wood hulls," said Russell Burg, assistant chief of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Inspection Division.
Chesbrough says that, under protest, he added a layer of fiberglass to the hull after a 2010 inspection.
The root of the problem is that "there's a bias against fiberglass, but it's based on lack of knowledge."
He said he's asked for an extension of the deadline but has been denied at the state and regional levels, and he's now appealed to the service's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Information from: Statesman Journal
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.