The Midwest Area River Coalition holds its annual meeting today and tomorrow. The focus will largely be on recent multi-state efforts to cooperate in the management of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers. MARC’s Paul Rohde says one issue the group strongly backs is the upgrading of lock-and-dam operations that enable barge hauling of farm commodities.He says it’s been called an investment in the future but it’s getting too late, saying there’s money coming out of farmers’ pockets while the infrastructure decays, and Rohde adds other countries are doing that upgrading. Rohde says the meeting tonight in St Louis will include representatives from many groups with an interest in the river, including those opposed to the lock-modernization proposal.He doesn’t anticipate any revelations, but says it’s necwessary to get ideas from all sides out on the table. Business, farming and environmental issues come into play when river management plans are made, and Rohde says there are groups who feel those issues conflict with each other.He says you’re talking about not only fish and birds but the lives and livelihoods of people who live in the river basins. Rohde says MARC is sometimes “demonized” because it’s pro-business, but he says “commerce is not a cour-letter word,” and asserts that members have many interests and consider themselves also pro-environment and pro-conservation. Agribusiness groups and MARC have long pushed for modernizing and enlarging the locks to let bigger barges pass along the rivers, saying that’s a cheaper and more environmentally-friendly way to haul grain than over roads or rails. Critics say commercial shipping pollutes the rivers and disturbs ecosystems.
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