THE UPPER MISSISSIPPI may in the end be chosen one of the
nation's 10 historic rivers and win special attention for the
stretch from St. Louis to St. Paul, Minn.
Or maybe the Missouri River will make the list in time for the
bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's river exploration that began in
But we'll have to wait a little longer to find out. Selection
by the White House has been delayed at the request of skeptics in
Congress - among them Missouri's two senators - aligned with groups
that worry that the government will trample property rights.
The competition is the American Heritage Rivers initiative,
which President Bill Clinton proposed four months ago in his State
of the Union message. It is designed to promote river conservation
and economic development by focusing federal efforts on riverfront
regions that make winning presentations.
Nominations were to be accepted in early August and the first
American Heritage Rivers selected around Labor Day by presidential
But last week, the public comment period was extended by 60
days - into mid-August - after property-rights advocates enlisted
members of Congress in their cause.
"I'm absolutely baffled and flabbergasted by the campaign that
is being orchestrated around this issue," said Kathleen McGinty,
director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
McGinty said the initiative "is 100 percent voluntary and 100
percent driven by local communities, which is what Congress says it
wants. It leaves you to scratch your head and say that maybe
something else is at work here."
Today, a representative from the office of St. Louis Mayor
Clarence Harmon and 20 mayors or their stand-ins from along the
Mississippi will convene in St. Paul for the first step in
nominating the Upper Mississippi.
Among those scheduled to attend is D.D. Danforth, who will
report back to St. Louis 2004, the civic organization looking at
ways to improve the region for the 100th anniversary of the St.
Louis World's Fair. St. Louis 2004's task force on parks and open
space has endorsed nominating the Mississippi.
Nonetheless, several Republican members of Missouri's
congressional delegation were in the forefront of pushing for
delays. Sens. Christopher S. Bond and John Ashcroft wrote letters
to the White House last week asking for an extension of the formal
comment period. In the House, Missouri Reps. Jo Ann Emerson and
Kenny Hulshof sent similar letters.
Bond, who also telephoned McGinty, said in his letter that
Missourians "are very suspicious that this may entail new
regulatory burdens and further restrictions on the use of their
private property and increase long-distance micromanagement from
Leanne Jerome, Bond's press secretary, said that his office had
received "a firestorm of telephone calls on the issue - dozens if
not hundreds." Ashcroft's office fielded a comparable flood of
calls, said Steve Hilton, Ashcroft's spokesman. Bond said in a
statement that he was pleased with the lengthened comment period.
"Whether the initiative will ultimately be embraced by those in
Missouri will be based on the continued dialogue between the people
and their government," he said.
Skeptics were scarce when Clinton offered the American Heritage
Rivers initiative on Feb. 4. The American Farm Bureau Federation
observed that "local community-based programs are the backbone of
the initiative." Illinois Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra praised the plan and
said he expected that the Illinois River would be nominated.
In a letter to the White House, Missouri Department of
Conservation director Jerry M. Conley called the program "timely
and exciting" and put in an early plug for the Missouri River.
The initiative is aimed at helping river communities revitalize
their waterfronts, recapture historic and cultural values and
improve the quality of water in their rivers. …