Community leaders along the Mississippi River hope to gain support for a new federal management program that would put the river on par with other protected natural resources like the Great Lakes.
The Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative, which represents mayors from Minnesota to Louisiana, is pushing Congress to pass proposed legislation they call the Safeguarding the Mississippi River Together Act as part of their National political platform 2021.
Colin Wellenkamp, executive director of the group, said the legislation would create a “comprehensive plan” for the management of the Mississippi River across local communities and states.
He said many other natural assets across the country, including the Great Lakes, Everglades and Chesapeake Bay, already have similar programs in place.
“Ironically, the Mississippi River has nothing. It has a patchwork of laws and regulations across the federal portfolio,” Wellenkamp said.
Because the waterway spans 10 different states, Wellenkamp said the federal and state governments have taken an “ad hoc approach” to investing in natural resources and infrastructure rather than trying to involve all parties. stakeholders in a single program.
“We can’t wait any longer. The disasters are just too big, they are too persistent. And there are really too many issues: too many jobs, too many of our economy, the future of our cities,” said Wellenkamp. “We really need to master the sustainable management of this waterway, and we cannot do it in pieces.”
La Crosse City Mayor Tim Kabat said a federal management plan would bring specific resources and national attention to the Mississippi River in a new way.
“So far, we have been strong supporters of existing programs and looked for ways to better utilize these existing sources of funding for the river,” Kabat said. “This brings us now, I think, to a new level. “
Kabat said river communities like La Crosse have had to deal with the impacts of more extreme floods, which damage infrastructure and harm local economies that depend on the river for navigation and tourism.
“It wasn’t until 2019, so it wasn’t that long ago, that we had the highest river levels for the longest stretches. We broke records even here in La Crosse for height. from the river for how long, ”Kabat said. . “If you multiply that up and down the river, it looks like these storms and impacts are getting more and more severe every year.”
The group supports the Biden administration’s renewed attention to creating a long-term response to climate change. But Wellenkamp warned that the administration’s efforts must include more than the most populous coastal regions.
“One of our priorities going forward is to ensure that any kind of drive to achieve climate performance in the United States drives Central America,” Wellenkamp said. “People have to feel and perceive that they are benefiting from these political initiatives. If they don’t, then they are going to lack the public support to keep them going beyond the next election.”
The group is also calling on lawmakers to allocate $ 100 million to the new Resilience Revolving Loan Fund through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The program was enacted by former President Donald Trump earlier this year and would provide local governments with funding to reduce the risk of natural disasters.
Wellenkamp said Republican Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson and U.S. Representative Ron Kind D-La Crosse were key players in passing the legislation last year, but Congress did not allocate any funding. to the new program.
Kabat said the revolving credit fund will give communities more flexibility than current funding opportunities offer.
“National programs look at national goals and those are really important, but sometimes it can be a one-size-fits-all approach,” Kabat said. “Even though La Crosse shares a lot with places like Dubuque, St. Cloud and Memphis and up and down the river, we still have our own local needs and issues. “
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