MRCTI Applauds ‘Transformative’ Plans

Member mayors of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI) from Louisiana, Mississippi and Illinois gathered in St. Louis January 31 with Waterways Council Inc. to profile the transformative potential of the major infrastructure projects now being funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). 

The Corps of Engineers recently released its spending plan for many of these new projects, giving stakeholders a preview of the vital work that will take place over the next several years to improve the Mississippi River System.

“This is historic,” said Mayor Errick Simmons of Greenville, Miss., and MRCTI co-chair. “We have not seen this much investment for so many projects come to our corridor for decades. The IIJA funding coupled with the Hurricane Ida disaster supplemental will provide critical resources for infrastructure and environmental projects up and down the river. In my city of Greenville, we are especially excited about the flood protection work planned for the Yazoo/Mississippi River backwater areas and the floatable waste removal and cleanup work funded through the Mississippi River & Tributaries Program.”

 The IIJA contains new funding for valuable resilience and economic development work including the newly funded NESP, or Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program. The IIJA allocation for the Mississippi Valley Division includes $732 million for Lock 25 next to Grafton, Ill, just north of St. Louis and $97.1 million for ecosystem restoration at Lock 22 between Hannibal and Louisiana, Mo. 

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“NESP is an unprecedented, multi-purpose program addressing improvements needed for both navigation and ecosystem,” said Jeff Webb, Waterways Council vice chairman and president of Cargill Marine & Terminal. “Lock 25 will be able, for the first time, to accommodate simultaneous two-way traffic. The original 600-foot chamber from 1939 will now be supplemented with a modern 1,200-foot chamber. Not having to break tows in half at Lock and Dam 25 will make barge transportation safer, more efficient and deliver commodities with a lower carbon footprint. Plus, the ecosystem restoration measures will boost riverine and riparian habitat.”

Grafton, Ill., Mayor Mike Morrow—who was commander of the St. Louis Engineer District from 1999 to 2002—said NESP will have multiple benefits throughout the system.

“The city of Grafton resides at the western boundary of America’s Central Port, which will benefit directly from the expansion slated for Lock 25, just north of both the port and Grafton,” he said. “More than 175 million tons of cargo transits the Upper Mississippi River annually, with over 3 million tons passing directly through our area. When I served as district engineer for the St. Louis District, our environmental river engineers helped design the fish passage that will be installed at Lock 22 near Hannibal. This eco-friendly system will be an important environmental component to our $17.2 billion Upper Mississippi River tourism and outdoor recreation economy.”

The Corps’ spending plan published this month also details projects funded through the Hurricane Ida disaster supplemental. The Mississippi Valley Engineer Division has $2.4 billion from the supplement to put toward disaster resilience measures throughout the lower Delta. The MRCTI city of Gretna, La., is situated in the middle of the Corps’ Hurricane Ida project cluster. 

“Several MRCTI cities, including my own of Gretna, sustained a direct hit from Hurricane Ida as it came ashore on August 29 as a Category 4 storm with 150 mph. winds,” said Gretna Mayor Belinda Constant, who is the MRCTI Louisiana chair. “Ida caused no less than $65 billion in damage. The $2.4 billion allocated in the supplemental for resilience is crucial to our future preparedness.”