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A National Dialogue for the Future of America's Waterway

River Currents Newsletter April 2012
Mississippi River Future Needs Citizen Input
A year ago, the nation was gripped by the visual images of record Mississippi River floods and its infrastructure's response. This year, without the benefit of great visuals, new challenges to the ecological and economic infrastructure of Old Man River are being raised with less fanfare, but with just as much, if not more significance.
Two preliminary studies and one article provide great insights into these Mississippi River challenges. The first is the draft of an Institute for Water Resources planning document. It lays out the commercial shipping challenges for U.S. Inland Waterways as the nature of international commerce changes and the Panama Canal expands. While not ready for attribution yet, its charts and graphs provide a picture of a vastly changing shipping world - both in size and direction. And, even in preliminary form, it gets to the heart of the matter: no one can say for sure what the new dynamics of this world will be. We have to plan for several different scenarios. If the U.S. is to stay competitive and take advantage of the opportunities, multi-layered scenarios will be needed to provide the jobs and products and enable the U.S. to remain a world-trade power. The yet-to-be-concluded study makes it eminently clear that these scenarios must have ecological as well as economic sustainability at their core.

More recently, the Mississippi River Delta Science and Engineering Special Team released a precursor to a final report in their document titled, "Answering 10 Fundamental Questions about The Mississippi River Delta". This document sets forth the science and specifics (in plain English) and the policy implications that would combine physical infrastructure with natural processes. Their end goal, it appears, is to get across the national imperative we all share for seeing this region restored. Hint: the sooner we get started, the safer economic drivers like shipping ($10.3 billion in 1999), commercial fishing ($2.85 billion), oil and gas ($2.7 billion to state and local payroll taxes), and other industries will be secured. They make a strong case for letting the Mississippi River do what it has done naturally: support the wetlands of the Delta region and rely less on - but don't abandon - increased levee construction.

The third recent report comes surprisingly from the corporate real estate magazine Site Selection. Entitled Bookends, the article documents the important roles of Minnesota and Louisiana - particularly Hennepin County, Minn. and East Baton Rouge Parish, La. - in new plant development and expansions in the U.S. At the north end of the Mississippi River, Hennepin County (Minneapolis and suburbs) has seen Proctor & Gamble, Medline, Emerson and Caterpillar locate new facilities, and the Louisiana parish, at the south end, has seen Exxon Mobile, Shintech, Honeywell and Westlake Chemical all make investments. Tied into the report on industrial development is the increasing tie these same communities have to lifestyle and riverfront development for recreation and social amenities. The two go hand in hand.

Other top-ten, fast growing counties, by project, along the Mississippi River are in Louisiana and Minnesota as well as Tennessee and Missouri. This independent magazine report unwittingly serves to underscore the importance of the IWR research and planning and the recommendations of the River Delta Science and Research Team. All three point to the importance of the Mississippi River's connectedness. The cities share transportation advantages because of the River and the Delta is dependent on what happens above it for its future.

This connectedness is why we believe public input from those living along at least the main stem of the Mississippi River is needed in these planning projects. The input of cities and towns along the River not only helps shape the plans, it can build the public support to get the plans enacted. The data in each report provides a glimpse of what's at stake. River citizens are the ones living with what's at stake.

America's Waterway is built on a process that enables citizen involvement to be productively and efficiently incorporated into Mississippi River challenges. The scope and complexity of the Mississippi River can be easily addressed in a National Dialogue for the Future of the River, as designed and executed by AmericaSpeaks. So as these and other planning efforts progress, let's not leave out the citizens living along the Mississippi River. It's their futures that are at stake. And, after all, the future is nearly here.

Northeast-Midwest Institute Launches Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative

A new initiative for the Mississippi River is taking shape at the Northeast-Midwest Institute through funding from the Walton Family Foundation. Colin Wellenkamp has been named director and is looking for mayors of Mississippi River cities and towns to join the initiative. Goals include the articulation and promotion of multi-stakeholder solutions to recurring federal and state policy problems that impede environmental and economic health of Mississippi River communities.

Mississippi River is Inaugural Site of Three-Year National Bicentennial Celebration

You probably don't associate the Mississippi River and New Orleans with the War of 1812 and the Star Spangled Banner. However, the city and River together play both a launch and conclusion role because the War of 1812 ended with the decisive Battle of New Orleans. Nola Navy Week 2012 runs from April 17-23 in New Orleans and is the first port of seven around the country participating in celebration of the theme, "Our Flag Was Still There".
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