WASHINGTON — Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) is pressing federal officials to accelerate federal water projects in Mississippi as one way to create greater economic activity in a state with a 12 percent unemployment rate.
Cochran, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, addressed the new Mississippi unemployment rate during a March 12 hearing to review the FY2011 budget requests for the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation. The Corps has many responsibilities in Mississippi including flood control, dredging and coastal improvements.
“The 12 percent unemployment rate in Mississippi adds urgency for federal agencies to try to accelerate projects that have been approved and funded, but where work and actual job-creating activity is not moving as fast as it could be,” Cochran said. “I would like for you to look at the budget requests you submitted and find some areas where we can provide funding that will help achieve these goals of better and higher levels of protection and better job-creating activities where the projects have been approved. Congress has approved them, directed they be done and funded them, but nothing is happening.”
Cochran cited work by Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour with the Army Corps of Engineers to identify projects where the state government can provide cooperative assistance in moving Corps projects forward, including Port of Gulfport improvements and the Mississippi Coastal Improvements Plan.
Cochran suggested, for instance, that completing the permitting process for modernizing the Port of Gulfport could help the Mississippi economy and prepare the port for the 2014 opening of an expanded Panama Canal. He also suggested in his prepared statement that material dredged to improve ports on the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico could, if found suitable, be used to advance barrier island or marshland restoration.
“The Corps is looking at how to improve port capacity in the Gulf of Mexico, and with the Panama Canal expansion underway, things are coming together to provide us opportunities to do some things to benefit our state and national interests,” Cochran said.