Bond visits port to talk about jobs, low river

Friday, August 29, 2003

SCOTT CITY -- The Southeast Missouri Regional Port Authority represented everything U.S. Sen. Kit Bond wanted to talk about Thursday -- it was created with major assistance from a government agency he wants to see reauthorized and it sits along an especially low Mississippi River he wants to see helped.

Before meeting with economic development officials to talk jobs, Bond chatted with U.S. Army Corps of Engineer representatives about how the lack of rain and subsequent low river has hurt river commerce.

Col. Kevin Williams told Bond that the river is low and expected to get lower with no significant rainfall in sight.

"It's causing fewer barges to be tied together, less load in each barge," Williams said. "It could be a significant impact."

It has been estimated that the low water is costing the barge industry $500,000 a day.

Bond blamed the drought conditions. But he also threw some of the blame to American Rivers, a national nonprofit conservation group, which he said recently convinced a federal judge to order slowing of Missouri River releases. The Missouri meets the Mississippi at St. Louis.

For the past 12 years, river basin states, agricultural interests and environmental groups have clashed over whether the Missouri River flow should be changed to send more water down the Missouri River during spring months and less during the summer months.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulates the flow of the Missouri with six dams in the Dakotas and Montana to prevent spring flooding and to bolster low-water summer months to help barges have enough water to transport farm commodities during crucial selling times.

"They want no commercial use," Bond said. "They want to see it used as a 10 million acre wetland reserves for snakes and birds and fish."

Though the corps is expected to begin releasing water back at normal levels by Sept. 1, Bond said he is still seeking to challenge the decision in court.

Job talk

After a lunch of barbecue sandwiches, potato salad and beans, Bond talked briefly with regional economic development officials at the port office about the impacts of federal investments on jobs -- like those made by the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration.

The EDA helped with $5 million in grant money to get the port authority up and running. The port used the EDA grant to subsidize construction on sewer service, streets, railroad tracks and main cargo docks.

The EDA is up for reauthorization in Congress, and Bond wants to make sure that happens. He brought two EDA officials with him to see how some of the money is put to good use. Bond also wanted to gather input from economic development officials to see what's important to them.

Bond encouraged all of those who attended the event Thursday, well more than 50, to contact other legislators from Missouri and other states to encourage continued support for the EDA.

Bond is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Transportation Subcommittee, which oversees the work of the EDA. The panel is also charged with writing the federal highway bill, and next year it will rewrite the Corps of Engineers Authorization bill.

All of these tasks would sustain and create jobs, the senator said.

"Jobs is my number one priority," Bond said, noting that Missouri lost 77,000 jobs last year, more than any other state. "I'm traveling around the state to see how to help bring more jobs."

David Madison, director of the Pemiscot County Port Authority, said he'd like to see funding replenished in what has become depleted economic development programs.

Bond said he was reluctant to give money directly to the state, saying that often the state uses federal money to replace money the state had been giving to groups, leaving those economic development agencies with the same amount.

"It's the end that is important," Madison said. "The mechanism is not important to us."

Since Monday, Bond has discussed job growth prospects with officials in Carrollton, Kansas City, Macon, Monett, Stockton and Jefferson City. He left the meeting Thursday and headed to St. Louis.

After the meeting, Buz Sutherland of the Small Business Development Center said that the EDA isn't necessarily in danger of going out of existence.

"But in years past, there have been folks who wanted to see it disappear," he said. "But I've been in economic development 31 years and a lot of people are working directly and indirectly because of their funding. If it does disappear, it would be a sad day."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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