Piggybacking off President Donald Trump's promise to rebuild America's communities and infrastructure, mayors along the Mississippi River have unveiled a proposal for Congress and the new administration to deliver on it.
The Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, comprised of 75 mayors and associations from Minnesota to Louisiana, have called for $7.93 billion in investment along America's greatest waterway after holding a news conference Thursday in Washington, D.C.
“The administration of President Trump has made it clear that they want to pursue an infrastructure and investment plan in the realm of half to a trillion dollars,” St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said. “Today, we are unveiling our plan to restore both the natural and built infrastructure in the Mississippi corridor, which will create jobs, enhance water quality, enhance national security and emergency preparedness.”
Coleman said the plan does not call for a large increase in spending, but rather maintaining the funding of several federal programs at current levels.
One specific area of concern for mayors up and down the Mississippi River is a pre-disaster mitigation program. The 2017 budget cut funding by close to 50 percent, but the association would like to see funding restored to $100 million per year.
"If we are going to invest in infrastructure, we need to make it resilient," Tellulah, Louisiana, Mayor Paxton Branch said.
Flooding damage caused $10 billion in damage in Baton Rouge alone as a result of massive floods in August 2016.
Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch participated in the initiative and offered comment through a prepared statement.
"Davenport has adapted by creating a riverfront park that gives the River room to move, adds to our natural infrastructure, and reduces the cost of protecting our city from the damage floods can cause," Klipsch said. "But we also need to know that the federal government has our backs when it comes to managing America’s largest waterway — which happens to be in our backyard.”
As a funding source for its plan, Belinda Constant, mayor of Gretna, Louisiana, said there were several non-taxpayer sources, including repatriation of overseas investment into municipal bonds. Constant said American companies hold $2 trillion in undistributed earnings outside the U.S. and some of those funds could be used for infrastructure investment.
By investing the river, the mayors also said it would be an investment in America's economy.
Constant called the Mississippi River the linchpin of domestic freight and water infrastructure. Constant said the river transports more than 60 percent of the country's corn and soybean exports and 40 percent of the nation's total agricultural output.
In total, the mayors said the river generates $496.7 billion in annual revenue and supports 1.5 million jobs.
The plan unveiled Thursday estimates an creation of an additional 100,000 jobs as a result of investment.
Besides agriculture, manufacturing and commercial traffic, investment also would benefit the tourism industry.
Representatives from both the American Queen Steamboat Co. and Viking River Cruises spoke on behalf of the domestic market for cruises and the untapped potential.
"We've barely scratched the surface for what the market could be," America Queen Steamboat President and COO Ted Sykes said.
Consultant David Simmons, speaking on behalf of Viking, said 85 percent of Viking's customers are Americans, yet the company has no national product.
Simmons said that the current offerings were running at 70,000 passenger nights, but the market can handle 100,000.
"By 2023, we anticipate the market to be well over 200,000, so there's quite a spread there as Viking River Cruises looks at somewhere between the six to eight range of vessels," Simmons said. "Tourism is huge, and it's only going to get bigger and bigger."
With the plan a slight increase over current spending levels, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay commended the group's plan that would create environmental controls, jobs and commerce for the entire Mississippi River region without breaking the bank.
"Far too long, there hasn't been enough focus given to the Mississippi River as a whole," Slay said.