Perspective: Maintaining the Missouri River

It's easy for thoughts about the Missouri River to stay in the back of your mind. It's always there, rolling inexorably to the Mississippi. For some, it doesn't affect their daily lives, at least not until it floods. But the Missouri River is an important economic artery for our state and all the states through which it runs, and we've worked hard in Missouri to make it an even more important source of commerce.

The Missouri River has navigational challenges, and those challenges have become more pronounced after the flood of 2019. The Missouri does not have a system of locks and dams to aid in navigation, making it harder for barge traffic to traverse the river. The Arkansas River has 18 locks. The upper Mississippi has 29. The Missouri has zero.

In order to keep the river navigable, the Army Corps of Engineers has to dredge channels in the river for barges to use. Unfortunately, last year's flood left a large amount of sediment in the river, which has caused the navigation structures that are built into the river to function improperly. It has left the Missouri in a state of disrepair. Commercial activity on the river is down significantly.

The Kansas City District of the Army Corps of Engineers has received $20 million for emergency supplemental repairs to the river. It's a good start. However, the Corps needs an estimated $200 million to make the lower Missouri fully navigable.

Many of Missouri's federal lawmakers have stepped up to meet this challenge. A letter has been sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seeking the additional funding necessary to make the repairs that the Missouri desperately needs. The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, U.S. Reps. Blaine Luektemeyer, Vicky Hartzler, Jason Smith, Sam Graves, and Gus Wagner, and by senators and representatives from several other states upriver. I am sincerely thankful to them for their leadership on this issue.

I've spoken before about the importance of the Missouri River to our area. Local shipping of grain, agricultural products and commercial goods lowers cost to consumers and improves revenue for local farms and businesses. River shipping is cheap, and it has the added bonus of being relatively better for the environment.

The navigability of the river now has added importance to our area. This year, the Missouri Legislature passed House Bill 1330, which I sponsored in the Senate. The bill paved the way for a port to be built in Jefferson City, one that is intended to eventually encompass river, rail and highway shipping in one location. It is a great opportunity for our area, and it will mean new jobs for our citizens, as well as better prices for our local farmers and manufacturers. But to make that happen, we need the Missouri's channel to be maintained.

I am proud to be a part of this effort to bring greater economic prosperity to our area. We are going to help our farms and businesses meet the challenges of the 21st century by using one of humanity's oldest transportation systems: our original highway system, the river.

State Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, represents the 6th District and shares his perspective on statehouse issues twice a month.