The mayors of Mississippi River towns from Minnesota and Wisconsin down to Louisiana are lobbying the federal government to provide relief funding to help fill the gaps caused by the COVID-19 tourism downturn. They are hoping to build infrastructure to make the region more resilient to increased flooding caused by climate change and establish a program to comprehensively manage the ten state waterway.
The Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI), a coalition of more than 100 municipalities along the river, held its annual meeting this week to discuss ways the region can bounce back from the pandemic and related economic effect on local budgets as well as build policies that can keep the river a vital source for shipping and tourism.
Among the major initiatives proposed in the MRCTI 2021 policy platform is the Safeguarding the Mississippi River Together (SMRT) Act, which would create a federal program that manages the environmental, economic and infrastructure programs for the entire river system. The proposed National Mississippi River Program Office is similar to existing programs for other multi-state systems including the Great Lakes.
The SMRT Act would provide up to $500 million per year for five years to fund grants and studies for maintaining the river.
Aside from the creation of a federal program to streamline the river’s management, MRCTI is also pushing for funding into watershed protection. The Mississippi River watershed covers 40% of the continental United States.
The MRCTI platform also pushes for greater investment into infrastructure along the river, from the bridges, locks and dams that help the region’s commerce to the Great River Road scenic byway that runs along most of the river — including most of Wisconsin.
At the MRCTI meeting, mayors — including La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat — spoke with federal representatives from many of the ten states along the river. None of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation appeared, though Rep. Ron Kind is a member of the Mississippi River Caucus.