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Mississippi River city mayors come together to sign agreement

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Mayors along America’s main street hope their togetherness may pave the way for more federal money in their communities.

But that street isn’t made of asphalt.

“The Mississippi River is America’s main street, its original main street,” Memphis, Tenn., Mayor A.C. Wharton said Thursday at the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative conference. “We have to have something that is tangible that we are all fighting for.”

Twenty-two Mississippi River city mayors gathered at the conference to sign an agreement to work together during the news conference.

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said the move would help secure funding for river-related projects more easily, but also create one uniform voice for cities on the river.

“There is strength in numbers,” Copeland said. “Instead of one city going to Washington, D.C., for whatever project they have, we now have a very strong coalition acting as one organization.”

Copeland, Natchez Mayor Butch Brown, Concordia Economic Development Director Heather Malone and Vidalia spokeswoman Sheri Rabb represented the Miss-Lou at the conference.

The memorandum is an extension of the group’s original purpose, to create a coordinated voice for the Mississippi River, St. Cloud Mayor David Kleis said during the conference. It also established a partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers to secure funding more easily to maintain the Mississippi River.

Two issues brought up by all the mayors at the news conference were the 2011 Mississippi River flood and ensuing drought in 2012. Copeland said the memorandum would help Mississippi River cities act uniformly and receive relief quicker when dealing with a disaster.

Points in the memorandum included:

• Increasing the effectiveness of the newly formed, bipartisan Congressional Mississippi River Caucus.

The caucus consists of U.S. congressmen who represent districts adjacent to the Mississippi River and is dedicated to lobbying for river-related project funding.

• Focusing federal resources to improve Mississippi River water quality.

• Encouraging development of a National Drought Council.

The council would create an action plan to deal with droughts and distribute drought preparedness information.

• Implementing a strategy that aids local governments in addressing aquatic plants and animals that may not be native to the river.

• Preserving the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program.

Kleis said the program would help cities deal with damage from disasters like the 2011 flood, by planning in advance.