WASHINGTON — Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland and other officials from communities along the Mississippi River called on Congress Wednesday to support efforts to better protect the river, which they called a national “asset.”
The goal is “to save the river and realize (its) importance to the rest of the country,” Copeland said after a morning forum in the Capitol. “The states that border the river — they know the problems. But you have to educate the other states about the issues and problems that we do have on the Mississippi River.”
Copeland and other officials from towns and states along the river, as well as environmental groups and the Army Corps of Engineers, met Wednesday to talk about concerns facing the river, including an increase in aquatic invasive species.
The meeting was held as part of the Big River Works Initiative, a project of America’s WETLAND Foundation. The foundation released a report Wednesday highlighting some concerns.
“We’ve got to focus on those issues,” said R. King Milling, chairman of the foundation. “There’s got to be a sense of urgency.”
Local and state officials, including Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, say the river is important to the economy and the environment. Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu said Congress has to step up efforts to protect it.
“We’re doing a pitiful job of preserving it,” she said.
Landrieu also said the Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t have enough money for the job.
“The budget is totally inadequate for the task in hand,” she said. “But what’s really sad about it is this tells me that this great nation didn’t even learn a lesson … from nine years ago,” she said, referring to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “The lessons are not reflected anywhere in the budget of the United States — nowhere.”
Copeland said the groups hope to get more congressional support.
“They’re beginning to realize this is a national problem, and hopefully we will get through to them,” he said.
Earlier this year, Copeland and a group of about 50 mayors from areas along the river traveled to Washington to urge Congress to support efforts to protect the river. Copeland said pressure from all the different coalitions should help convince Congress to “finally… start listening to what our problems are.”