St. Gabriel's Mayor Lionel Johnson Jr. appointed to important Mississippi River organization


Mayor Lionel Johnson Jr. of St. Gabriel was recently appointed as the co-chairman of the Mississippi River Cities and Town Initiative, an organization Johnson said aims to "strengthen the river in terms of environment and equality.

Appointed to serve with Johnson was Davenport, Iowa, Mayor Frank Klipsch. 

"I see it as a great opportunity and a privilege to serve," Johnson said. "To be selected by my fellow mayors, to serve n the capacity of co-chair of this organization is a great honor." 

He said he sees many challenges for the leaders of cities and towns all along the great river.

"There are a lot of challenges along the river -- from start to end -- and getting to people to undestnad that what happens upstream affects those downstream is one," Johnson said.

He said the organization is looking for funding for projects cities along the Mississippi have planned through the federal Farm Bill and its Infrastructure Bill, "So we can continue to have strong infrastructure along the Mississippi River."

The U.S. Environmental Protection agency also offers interest-free loans for water infrastructure projects like pump stations, treatment plans and others, said one official.

Since federal funding is always uncertain, Johnson said, "We're no longer in a posture of loking for federal funds that may or may not come so we are looking for opportunities for public-private partnerships.

There are 80 cities from Minnesota to Louisiana involved in the organization and the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative has already found an ally and partner with the non-profit CDP, originally the Carbon Disclosure Project to help seek investors willing to fund what are known as "green funds," designed for environmental improvements.

The river initiative also plans to lobby for federal interest-free loans for flood prevention projects, which would include wetlands restoration projects or safeguards for port facilities.

Johnson said the stretch of the lower Mississippi River is ideal for public-private partnerships and said he would like to provide opportunities for fishing and education.