Gutknecht says no to federal funding for Mississippi River revitalization program

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Minnesota congressman wants to exclude part of the Mississippi River from a federal program that’s designed to revitalize some of the nation’s most significant waterways.
Some 126 rivers or parts of rivers, including the upper Mississippi, have been nominated for designation as one of 10 American Heritage rivers under the program set up by the Clinton administration to help towns clean up and restore their riverfronts.
Members of Congress have been allowed to veto designation of portions of rivers that run through their districts.
In a May 14 letter to the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, Republican Rep. Gil Gutknecht said “thousands of constituents” in his southeast Minnesota district had objected to the designation. He also said the program would divert money from other, more important programs.
In addition, farm groups feared that the designation could lead to restrictions on barge traffic.
Gutknecht’s objection would only affect the Minnesota side of the river as it runs along the eastern side of his district from the Twin Cities area to the Iowa border.
Gutknecht’s letter missed a January deadline that the administration had set for hearing from lawmakers, but the White House is likely to honor his objection, said Scott Faber, a spokesman for the environmental group American Rivers.
More than 50 cities from Bemidji, Minn., to St. Louis have expressed interest in the program, but none are in Gutknecht’s district.
“Some members of Congress have gotten incorrect information about what this program is designed to do and what it will not do,” said Faber. He said the designation would not hurt farmers, restrict barge traffic, or force property owners off their land.
Instead, it would provide local officials with help in securing federal assistance for riverfront projects.
“What a dedicated river obtains is this federal expert who will help them match their vision with all of the federal resources available,” Faber said.
Critics of the program say it isn’t clear, however, what the government intends to do with the program.
“We can’t have that sort of thing interfering with commerce on the river,” said Gerald Tumbleson, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. “No one has ever explained what it is.”
Two Missouri lawmakers, Democrat Pat Danner and Republican James Talent, also have vetoed inclusion of the Mississippi in their districts.
An advisory committee is considering the nominated rivers and will make recommendations to the White House on which ones to designate for the program.
The Minnesota River also is under consideration for the program. None of the lawmakers whose districts it runs through have objected to its designation.