Mayors Call Attention to Plight of Mississippi River Towns; Sign Historic Agreement

Mar 5, 2021  | 6 min  | Ep4629

The Mississippi River is a major lifeline and superhighway for Midwestern grain. The towns along the 2,340 mile stretch of water are responsible for creating more than $400 billion in commerce. As goes the river, so goes the livelihood of those holding the 1.3 million jobs along the route.

There is one group that feels a deep responsibility for what happens next along the banks of the mighty river and they take their job seriously.

Josh Buettner has more.

This week, the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative held their annual Capitol meeting at the mouth of sea change in Washington.

President Joe Biden: “It makes us a helluva lot more competitive around the world if we have the best infrastructure in the world.”

Sharon Weston Broome/Mayor – Baton Rouge, Louisiana: “The renewed drive, by the administration, to arrive at a climate solution is something that we support in a broad sense.  But that drive cannot leave middle America behind.”

For nearly a decade, the regional mayoral assemblage has promoted economic and environmental security for riparian communities along the crucial inland waterway – and cultivated a bi-cameral Congressional Caucus able to champion policies beneficial to America’s largest watershed.

Senator Dick Durbin/D - Illinois: “The first thing we need to do is pass this American Rescue Plan for President Biden.  There is billions, literally billions of dollars coming back to your local governments, as a result of it.”

While unveiling their own plan to address presidential priorities, river town mayors and emergency management officials called on federal lawmakers for pandemic support and authorization of new natural disaster-related revolving loan funds.

Eric Letvin/Deputy Assistant Administrator for Mitigation/Federal Emergency Management Agency: “Safeguarding Tomorrow through Ongoing Risk Mitigation Act was signed into law in January.  So, bottom line, up front, FEMA cannot implement the Act until there is a Congressional appropriation to fund it.  What the Act does, as you mentioned, is - $100 million is authorized for fiscal years ’22 and ’23.”

The conference coincided with a new report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which upgraded the nation’s infrastructure to C-minus from a previous D-plus, largely due to bridge improvements.  But some were quick to point out the disparity of a ubiquitous framework in use decades past recommended lifespans.

Robert Gallagher/Mayor – Bettendorf, Iowa: “Sixty percent of the world’s grain ships up and down that Mississippi River and it comes from the heartland.  We fear, as a consortium of mayors up and down the river, that want to move all products to the world and continue to feed the world, that if we don’t invest, now, in our lock and dam infrastructure, we may be too far behind the curve to catch up.”

The importance of safeguarding an agricultural export market worth billions annually was evident, as were concerns over shipping competition from China and an expanded Panama Canal.  Assembled mayors say federal action would accelerate private investment and bolster industries from farming to tourism and beyond.

Robert Gallagher/Mayor – Bettendorf, Iowa: “We’ve got great partners in places like Wal-Mart and Home Depot that have agreed to help us if we can move the container on barge to fill those containers to come back up the river, but we’re really not going to get that kind of investment – until or unless – we can get some help with the infrastructure of the river.  It is the world’s largest working river.”

Pollution concerns, specifically the rising tide of chemicals from one-time use plastic products, also were a key component of the summit.  Partners in academia, along with international and philanthropic interests, launched a smartphone application to crowdsource solutions.

Barbara Hendrie/North America Director/United Nations Environment Program: “I’m thrilled today to be part of the formal launch of this initiative which is aimed at harnessing the power of ordinary people to become citizen scientists in their communities along the river to help us generate date for a plastic pollution map.  If you can’t measure a problem, if you can’t assess a problem, it’s very difficult to understand how to solve a problem.”

Aditya Ranade/Managing Partner – Two Degrees Adapt: “While the temperature figure gets the most attention, it has several cascading impacts.  Warmer air attracts more moisture, resulting in higher precipitation.  And this precipitation comes in a very heavy small number of events – so simultaneously raising the risk of drought and flood.”

Dovetailing with federal climate ideals, the virtual event culminated with mayors signing a memorandum of common purpose with Ducks Unlimited. 

Adam Putnam/Chief Executive Officer – Ducks Unlimited: “In addition to what it means to people, the Mississippi River valley is a vital migration corridor for 40 percent of North America’s waterfowl and 60 percent of all bird species.”

The Memphis, Tennessee-based world leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation will help deploy natural infrastructure in 3 pilot locations – upper, middle and lower portions of the river - which creates habitat, improves water quality and mitigates flooding and other adverse weather risks to riverbank municipalities.

CEO Adam Putnam says partnerships are essential and those working the landscape can join his efforts with federal assistance.

Adam Putnam/Chief Executive Officer – Ducks Unlimited: “D-U really sees ourselves as a trusted partner to those farmers and ranchers to connect them with our partners at USDA to enroll them in those programs…and that ground that is not the best for agriculture – in many cases is the best for conservation and sustainability purposes.”

For Market to Market, I’m Josh Buettner.

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