Mayors ready to talk Miss. River in Washington D.C.

Published 12:12 am Monday, March 24, 2014

NATCHEZ — Two Miss-Lou mayors will be in the nation’s capital today to advocate for the well-being of the river they say is the nation’s lifeblood.

The members of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative will meet today through Wednesday in Washington, D.C., and Natchez Mayor Butch Brown and Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland will be in attendance.

Vidalia Marketing Director Sherri Rabb and Port Director Wyly Gilfoil will also be in attendance. Rabb helped with the organizing of the initiative’s meeting, Copeland said.

Email newsletter signup

“The goal of this was to bring together all of the mayors on the Mississippi River, from the top to the bottom, to become a lobbying force for the river, not for the cities but for the river itself,” Brown said.

“I got interested in it from this perspective, to bring to the forefront the needs of the river and how valuable it is. That river is the busiest commercial waterway in the world, and some of us feel it is being terribly neglected. We are going to lose it if we don’t have the initiatives in place to take care of it.”

Forty percent of goods shipped in the United States have a connection to the Mississippi River at some point, Copeland said.

“There are a tremendous amount of goods shipped on the Mississippi River,” he said.

“This meeting is almost like joining a port association of all those cities. We want to have one unified group where — if we have issues — we can go to our Congressional delegation and raise them. It’s one of the most important meetings we can attend.”

Brown said he is concerned about the “hardware” of the river, the locks and channels.

“The average age of the locks and dams on the upper Mississippi River is 75 years,” he said. “They are so old, there are not parts available for them, and they are so small they can’t take a big tow of more than two barges. They are antiquated, it is inefficiently operated and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been hamstrung for too long.”

Brown serves on the initiative’s executive committee — the coalition pays for his trip — and he said the coalition will meet in Natchez in 2016.

During the meeting, the local delegation will meet with its congressional representatives and will discuss the needs of the river. Today, the initiative will have a dinner with the Corps of Engineers, while on Tuesday it will have a breakfast with the Mississippi River Network Policy Committee, meetings with U.S. House and Senate representatives and a White House meeting with the White House Rural Council.

Wednesday’s meetings will include discussions of river health, drought and shipping.

Copeland will address the group about disaster mitigation grants.

“We need more high profile people to learn about the problems and conditions of the river, not the river in Natchez or St. Louis, but the river top to bottom,” Brown said. “The Corps needs to be respected and funded for what they are, which is the No. 1 engineering unit in the world.”

In addition to river-related issues such as the Vidalia port and recreational potential on the river, Copeland said he would meet with federal representatives to discuss a grant the city has applied for to bring fiber optic cable for broadband Internet into Vidalia.

“If you have a grant application and you visit them and let them know who you are and what the project is about, that can help tremendously,” he said.

Brown said he will also visit the offices of the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and the National Park Service to discuss local and river projects.