OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Governors from several states hit by this year's historic overflowing of the Missouri River pledged Friday to work together for the first time to convince the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make flood control its top priority for the nation's longest river.
The top executives from seven states signed a letter during a meeting in Omaha that asks the federal agency to review its river management practices and make recommendations to improve flood control along the 2,341-mile-long river. The corps manages the river, which flows from Montana, through North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri.
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said he opted not to attend the meeting and has refused to sign the letter. Schweitzer told The Associated Press he felt the meeting was tilted in favor of downriver states that want to focus solely on flood mitigation and navigation, at the expense of recreation and wildlife.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback acknowledged that upstream and downstream states often clash about river management, but he said this year's floods convinced most to join forces and push for flood control.
Governors are meeting in Omaha to discuss ways to avoid a repeat of this year's destructive floods that submerged thousands of acres of farmland, forced residents from their homes and rerouted trains and motorists. Some cities, including Omaha, spent millions of dollars trying to protect airports, water treatment plants and other infrastructure from the rising waters.
Some of the governors have said they would push for better flood control, and experts have warned that broader, long-term flood prevention will require economic sacrifices from individual states and a new approach to controlling the nation's longest river.
The Missouri has been overflowing for months because of heavy Rocky Mountain snowpack and a rainy spring.
Schweitzer was scheduled to meet with governors and representatives from the seven other river states in Omaha to discuss options for keeping the river in its banks. He said he decided Thursday not to attend, partly because of ongoing Montana forest fires and because he's frustrated that downriver governors want to focus solely on flood mitigation and navigation.
"The direction of this meeting has gone in a way that there wouldn't be much of a point in me attending," Schweitzer told the AP. "I am not signing that letter," he later added. "You would have to knock me down, tie me up, kick me, and have a big dog bite me. I still wouldn't sign it."