Brett Blume

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) –  First it was an historic drought, then Hurricane Isaac.

The Mississippi River has really been put through the ringer this year, creating enough of a concern for mayors of cities and towns all up and down the river that they’re now banding together.

The result is the first-ever meeting of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI) with the goal of focusing national attention back on a river that directly supports one million jobs and generates $105 billion annually toward the U.S. economy.

“The drought and hurricane serve as urgent reminders that the Mississippi River needs to be a national priority,” said St. Louis mayor Francis Slay, the meeting’s host. “As mayors we have vowed to forge ahead with one voice to protect the local and national interests presented by this vast and important river.”

Dozens of mayors are attending the two-day conference at the Hyatt Regency through Friday including A.C. Wharton of Memphis, who called the Mississippi “rambunctious and unpredictable”.

“There are people out of work right now, there are folks who can’t go to the ports to work because the barges can’t get in,” Wharton said. “So while it may be beautiful in its grandeur it also has a damaging side to it.”

Modeled after the successful Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, MRCTI is an effort coordinated by the Northeast-Midwest Institute and involving officials from EPA, USDA, FEMA, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers along with state officials and non-government organization stakeholders on critical federal activities affecting Mississippi River cities and towns.

Mayor Slay said it’s an effort that will stretch along the entire 2,500 mile length of the Mississippi — and to both sides of the aisle.

“I’ve met all these mayors and most of them I couldn’t tell you if they’re Republican or they’re Democrat..and I don’t care,” Slay said. “Because this is about doing the right thing for our communities, for our environment and for our economy.”

After this week’s organizational meeting at the Hyatt Regency downtown, future plans include:

*  Supporting a Farm Bill, which the mayors believe is urgently needed to provide aid to drought-devastated communities and protect the national economy from being stressed by higher food and energy prices

*  Heading to Capitol Hill in early 2013 to demand critical policy changes such as transforming the National Flood Insurance Program to incentivize sustainable development of floodplain areas and focusing on the river’s environmental health to ensure that navigation remains viable

*  Involving the agriculture, recreation and navigation industries in the effort


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