The Commercial Appeal

Wharton picked to co-chair initiative

Mayors eye river issues

- By Bartholome­w Sullivan

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Mayor Roy Buol of Dubuque, Iowa, were chosen last week to co-chair the Mississipp­i River Cities and Towns Initiative at an organizati­onal meeting in St. Cloud, Minn.

Reached on a bus in Minneapoli­s Friday afternoon, Wharton said he will be pushing for dedicated funding for dredging the river’s ports so that cities like Memphis don’t have to “pass the hat” when harbors silt up. He’ll also seek dedicated funding in case of a catastroph­ic failure of any of the locks and dams on the upper reaches of the river.

The mayors are also planning to deal with the problem of hypoxia in the river caused by agricultur­al runoff and a pre-disaster plan to mitigate calamities associated with a wide variety of natural disasters.

Wharton said the nation needs to recognize that the Mississipp­i is not just “a stream with barges,” but is also the source of industrial jobs, tourism, and residentia­l living. He noted Memphis recently brought back passenger boats to its riverfront.

Memphis will host an economic summit in October, Wharton said, to highlight the river’s importance to the national economy.

Wharton and Buol will succeed St. Louis Mayor Francis Clay and Mayor David Kleis of St. Cloud in their one-year appointmen­ts.

At least 56 mayors have joined the initiative, which aims to speak with one voice when it comes to navigation infrastruc­ture and other issues affecting commerce and environmen­tal threats to a resource that provides everything from jobs to drinking water to millions.

Twenty mayors made it to the meeting Friday.

Wharton said Friday that some of the efforts being pushed have been perennial issues for river mayors, but they were often stymied by the perception that river mayors from the South had different priorities than those from the North. He said they now find they have more in common than the issues that divide them.

More than 3 million people live in the 124 cities and towns along the main stem of the Mississipp­i, and 18 million people depend on it for their water supply.

The group has called for a Farm Bill with a sodsaver program to improve the river’s water quality by conserving grasslands on its banks and on its tributarie­s.

During a visit to Washington in March, Wharton said that Memphis needs to be able to represent to any future employer planning to relocate to the Bluff City, as it did with the recent moves by Electrolux and Mitsubishi, that its port will be dredged to meet their needs.

Upriver from Memphis on the Arkansas side, Osceola will need reliable river access for a steel mill being built there. In a statement announcing the selection of the new co-chairmen, the initiative noted that the river drains 37 states and transports 62 percent of the nation’s agricultur­al output while directly supporting a million jobs.

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