Mayors from 15 cities along the Mississippi River, including Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, wrapped up two days of talks in Washington Wednesday with promises from federal agencies to help their communities with disaster planning, economic development, environmental protection projects, and more.
The mayors gave reporters a “play by play” report of their activities in a Wednesday-morning news conference and reminded them that the river generates $200 billion in revenues annually. They also stressed the need for state and local government cooperation in improving the river as it covers 10 states, 31 Congressional districts, and 124 cities “all bonded by one river,” said Dubuque Iowa Mayor Roy Buol.
“The Mississippi River supports jobs, and provides food and water, and gives our culture and traditions a sense of permanence,” Buol said. “Yet, so many times, it is taken for granted but we, as mayors, certainly do not.”
• Vicksburg, Miss. Mayor George Flaggs said he talked with the U.S. Army Corps. Of Engineers to develop a general management plan for the river to help improve the economic performance of river activity. Flaggs asked Corps. officials to collaborate with the mayors’ group to develop a performance monitoring tool to give cities and businesses more economic data “so we can improve the river.”
• Tom Thompson, Mayor of Grafton, Ill., said he spoke with the Environmental Protection Agency and other environmental organizations to improve funding for clean and drinking water programs. President Bararck Obama’s new budget cuts $500 million from such programs.
• Hickman, Ky. Mayor David Lattus said he spoke with White House officials from the president’s Rural Council to make the river more resilient in the face of changes from the effects of climate change. For example, Lattus gave the flood of 2008 and 2011, the drought of 2012, and the spring flooding of 2013. The president’ new budget includes $8 billion for climate-change control projects like clean energy production.
Also, Lattus said they discussed reclaiming the river’s natural landscape, increasing capacity for storm water events and shoring up infrastructure for the river’s ports.
• The EPA told St. Cloud, Minn. Mayor David Kleis that the agency will work with his group to form a an accident prevention program on the river to guard against chemical spills. He said the recent chemical spill into West Virginia’s Elk River revealed policy gaps in the protection of the Mississippi River.
“This would be devastating if it happened on the Mississippi River and we are looking for ways to prevent it in the future,” he said.
• Osceola, Ark. Mayor Dickie Kennemore said he will work with the U.S. Department of Transportation to ready the Mississippi River to transport shipping containers. Putting the containers on the river would “help our balance of trade” with trucking companies and take more freight traffic off the roads, which, he said, would lead to a decrease cost in road repair.
“Also, the fact is that they are expanding the Panama Canal and that will be a driving force behind the expansion of container shipping worldwide,” Lattus said. “Those on Mississippi River and other inland waterways want a bite of that apple.”
He said his group would work with USDOT, state and local governments, and private companies to develop the infrastructure for container shipping on the river.