Leaders of cities along the Mississippi River have chosen St. Gabriel Mayor Lionel Johnson Jr. to head up efforts to encourage ecologically-conscious investment along the banks.
Earlier this month, the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative elected Johnson and Davenport, Iowa, mayor Frank Klipsch to co-chair the organization. In an interview, the two identified several endeavors they'll pursue in the coming year.
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The 80 cities from Minneapolis to Louisiana have partnered with the environmental non-profit CDP — formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project —to seek investors looking to fund "green bonds."
Paula DiPerna, the organization's global adviser for environment and finance, said CDP acts as a matchmaker between lending institutions and localities that have identified projects to address climate change, deforestation and water conservation.
The first step will be determining which steps the cities want to take. For example, New Orleans has identified deficiencies in its water infrastructure and concerns over subsidence, while Baton Rouge has not yet filed disclosure documents with the organization.
CDP looks for low-risk investments in projects in communities with good credit that banks, pension fund managers and others will be willing to float bonds to get built. The investors make money on the interest from the loans.
DiPena hopes to "successfully showcase" at least five projects in the three-year term of the partnership.
The Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative is also seeking federal funding opportunities for flood resiliency projects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently offers interest-free loans for such water infrastructure as pipes, pump stations, treatment facilities and the like, explained Executive Director Colin Wellenkamp. Those projects have proven to be a good investment, returning twice the value of the money put into them, he said.
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The Mississippi River cities group will lobby for a similar program to provide interest-free loans for flood resiliency projects.
Wellenkamp hopes the federal government will agree to a broad scope, which could include financing for projects such as wetlands restoration or safeguarding port facilities.
The Louisiana stretch of the Mississippi River is ripe for public-private partnerships as well, Johnson said. Though St. Gabriel hasn't drawn up specific designs, the mayor would like to provide opportunities for fishing and education. There could also be commercial development — hopefully featuring ventures built in such a way as to displace less water during storms to reduce flooding.
The Bayou State might be able to look north for some ideas.
Davenport, for example, hasn't leveed its stretch of the Mississippi. During high water, the river is allowed to flood into a park and other undeveloped areas, while temporary flood structures protect the nearby baseball stadium and other facilities, Klipsch said.
The River Cities Initiative is attempting to provide a forum where riparian communities can learn from one another and lobby for mutually beneficial policies.
For example, Johnson told his northern colleagues at the recent conference about his experiences seeking disaster recovery funding after destructive storms.
However, Louisiana also has to contend with the ill-effects of some activity in the midwest. One major problem is agricultural run-off from fertilizers, which contributes to the annual Gulf of Mexico dead zone and kills marine wildlife off the Louisina coast, impacting the state's seafood industry.
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Johnson hopes the collaboration with other river cities in agricultural states like Iowa and Illinois can help guide environmentally-conscious policies.
"Everything is on the table at this point. ... We understand the responsibility," Klipsch said.
"Definitely the awareness is there," Johnson added.
"They understand that what happens in their area affects our area."