Local mayors join with leaders to form river caucus

Published 12:08 am Monday, March 18, 2013

NATCHEZ — Two local mayors are traveling to Washington, D.C., this week to join a new voice for Mississippi River cities.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown and Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland will join nine other mayors of cities that share the banks of the Mississippi and members of Congress to announce the formation of the Mississippi River Bicameral Caucus Thursday.

The mayors are members of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative, a mayoral-led effort to create a coordinated voice for the Mississippi River that began last year.

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The caucus will also unveil its platform for improving the waterway, according to a press release from MRCTI.

MRCTI will address water quality and habitat restoration, flooding and floodplain issues, river-focused recreation, sustainable economies and the celebration of the river culture and history.

Brown said one of the goals is to encourage strong bipartisan leadership to pass water resources bills, such as the Water Resources Development Act.

“We need to have not just Sen. (Roger) Wicker and Sen. (Thad) Cochran trying to pass bills (for the river),” Brown said. “We want all the senators on both sides of the river, large cities and small cities for its entire length involved in that effort.”

Updating the river’s lock and dam system is a concern, Brown said.

“Commerce on the busiest waterway in the world can be impacted by the loss of one lock and dam,” he said. “That will be billions of dollars, but we do billions of dollars every year in commerce (on the river).”

That is especially important, Brown said, with the scheduled opening of the Panama Canal expansion expected in late 2014 or 2015.

“There will be a dramatic increase in river traffic, and we’re not putting anything into the infrastructure to enhance the movement,” he said. “It’s gotten to a critical point in that our waterways are being neglected.”

Brown said he will also use his time in Washington to seek out funding for the renovation of the former railroad depot for the Natchez Farmers’ Market project, housing for the Martin Luther King Jr. Street area and recreation.

Brown is also scheduled to meet with members Inland Rivers, Ports and Terminals Association in New Orleans on his way back from Washington. The association is hosting its conference in New Orleans this week. Brown said he wants to talk to the association about hosting its annual meeting in Natchez next year, as well as an international meeting in 2016 in conjunction with Natchez’s tricentennial.

Copeland did not return repeated calls to his office or house.