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Mayors leading river discussions at second annual meeting

By Lindsey Shelton & Josh Bergeron

The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — Two local mayors will be making presentations in St. Cloud, Minn., this week at a gathering dedicated to prosperity, sustainability and economic growth of the Mississippi River.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown and Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland will be joining more than 20 mayors from cities and towns along the river for the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative’s second annual meeting.

Brown will be making a presentation at the conference about container on barge shipping on the Mississippi River.

The talk will be geared toward keeping freight moving on the river instead of unloading it at a port and putting on a truck for delivery, Brown said.

“The most economical way of freight movement is on water,” he said. “The farther you move it on water, the cheaper the cost.”

Brown said there have been movements toward keeping freight on the river in the past.

“But it has never gotten a strong set of legs under it,” he said. “There has to be more volume, and it has to be more profitable and sustainable.”

That extra volume, profit and sustainability could come with the reopening of the Panama Canal in 2015, Brown said.

“With the reopening of the canal, we will have significantly more cargo and hopefully it will lend itself well to generating more interest for the continued and sustained movement of freight on the Mississippi River,” he said.

A panel discussion on the topic will follow Brown’s talk, and Brown will also be introducing National Geographic representatives who are partnering with the National Park Service and the river cities and town initiative put together a program to ensure the use of the river is ecologically sustainable.

Brown said his involvement and trips with the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative is also beneficial to Natchez because it has led to a commitment from the group to host a multi-day conference in Natchez during the city’s yearlong tricentennial celebration in 2016.

Copeland will moderate a panel on nutrient trading, which allows credits to be purchased by entities to meet pollution compliance requirements. In this case, Copeland’s panel will focus on reducing pollutants in the Mississippi River by introducing nutrients.

Another important aspect of the conference is an effort to create a uniform zoning code for the entire Mississippi River, Vidalia spokeswoman Sheri Rabb said.

Rabb said a uniform zoning code would make transportation and business easier on the river.

The MRCTI will also announce at the meeting a memo of common purpose with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers a move to make the cities and towns along the Mississippi River more sustainable.

The meeting will also include a mayors’ jobs forum, during which leaders in navigation, agriculture, water infrastructure, recreation and tourism industries will discuss job opportunities to continue their efforts to improve the shared waterway.