Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has problems with a multi-state Missouri River organization.
This spring, Branstad sent a letter to three governors — including Dave Heineman of Nebraska — gauging interest in forming a coalition of states “supporting a balanced approach to the Missouri River’s authorized purposes.”
In it, Branstad criticized the Missouri River Association of States and Tribes (also known as MoRAST), which the governors of Iowa and Nebraska helped found in 2006, as not properly representing the interests of downstream states.
“The governor just kind of felt that the interest of Iowa wasn’t best served through the organization, so he is just reviewing Iowa’s participation,” said Jimmy Centers, a spokesman for Branstad.
The letter is dated April 22, about a month before the current flood crisis began. The proposal, sent to the governors of Kansas and Missouri as well, was released following a public records request by the Associated Press in Iowa.
The association is regional and includes the Mni Sose Intertribal Water Rights Coalition and all the states along the Missouri River except Missouri. MoRAST was formed to help resolve problems and foster the exchange of information, according to its website.
“MoRAST is meant to be a communication forum, so that everybody who has an issue can come and talk about it. … If you want to solve problems and look for solutions, the first thing you do is make sure your lines of communication are open,” said Gene Zuerlein, acting treasurer for the organization and an official with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
In the letter, Branstad criticized MoRAST, saying it “has not represented or balanced the interest of its members, in particular the downstream states as it persists in taking a narrow focus on upstream recreational interests.”
Branstad also took issue with the organization’s support of the Missouri River Authorized Purposes Study, a congressionally authorized effort to review the Flood Control Act of 1944 to determine if changes are warranted. The purposes include flood control, navigation, recreation, and fish and wildlife, according to the study’s website.
Branstad said that Iowa was opposed to the study and that MoRAST failed to include the state’s position in correspondence with federal policy makers.
Mike Hayden, a former Kansas governor, is the new executive director of MoRAST. He said he recently met with Branstad.
“It went fine. I pointed out that the current floods only point out how important it is that all of us work together, and the same water that flooded Bismarck and Pierre is the same water that flooded Omaha and western Iowa,” Hayden said.
The organization has always stressed a balanced approach, he said, working closely with the states along the Missouri, including Iowa.
“I’m hoping that he will give MoRAST a chance because these floods point out that no one state can solve these problems on their own,” Hayden said.
Branstad was not available Thursday for comment. Centers, however, said there had not been much movement on the proposal with the region’s attention focused on flooding.
“There’s not going to be anything done until these waters recede and we move down the path of recovery,” he said.
Representatives of the other governors said much the same thing. Heineman spokeswoman Jen Rae Hein said the Nebraska governor had reviewed the letter.
“Discussions are on hold right now, as the governor is dealing with flooding,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, said he believes there should be a 9/11-style commission to look into how the Missouri River system was managed recently.
She said Brownback has spoken to Branstad, and they plan on talking again after floodwaters recede.
“Gov. Brownback believes it’s important to have all affected parties at the table when we have this in-depth conversation on how the river is managed,” she said.
Scott Holste, a spokesman for Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri, said Nixon hadn’t had time to consider Branstad’s proposal, as Nixon was focused not only on Missouri River flooding but on the recovery from the May 22 tornado in Joplin that killed more than 150 people.
“There has not been a written response on that. Obviously we’ve had a busy few months here with our natural occurrences. . .With all of the things on our plate, consideration has had to wait.”
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