406 Dirksen EPW Hearing Room

Ricky Dale James

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee: I am honored to appear before you as the nominee for member of the Mississippi River Commission.


Mr. Chairman, I would like to make a brief statement about the Mississippi River Commission, the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MR&T) project, and my qualifications for the position for which I have been nominated.


The Mississippi River Commission, established by Act of Congress on June 28, 1879, consists of seven members, all of whom are appointed by the President of the United States subject to confirmation by the Senate. Three members are Corps of Engineers officers, one of whom serves as president; one member is from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and three members are from the civilian sector, two of whom must be civil engineers.


From its inception in 1879, the Commission has been charged with the vital task of planning and implementing a program of flood damage reduction projects and navigation improvements on the Mississippi River. More recently, project purposes have been expanded to include environmental restoration. This task continues to be conducted in concert with the myriad of political institutions, individuals, and public entities, which have major interests in seeing that the water resources needs and opportunities of the Mississippi Valley are evaluated, planned, designed, constructed, and maintained.


As established in 1879, the Commissioners were to serve as advisors in planning and implementing water resource projects and programs on the Mississippi River between the Head of Passes below New Orleans to its headwaters. Since 1928, the Commission has focused on the Mississippi River and Tributaries project, authorized by the Flood Control Act of May 15, 1928, to be implemented under oversight of the Commission. The MR&T project extends generally from the confluence of the Ohio River to the Head of Passes below New Orleans and covers portions of seven states. It receives water from all or portions of 31 states and part of two Canadian provinces, or roughly 41 percent of the contiguous United States. Effective planning, design, construction, and operation of the widespread and complex MR&T project have been assisted greatly by the Commission's active consultation with the public, particularly on its semiannual lower Mississippi River inspection trips, and by the high degree of professionalism that has been developed in its staff.


The MR&T project is truly of national significance. For example, a major flood on the lower Mississippi River would have catastrophic effects on the inhabitants of the Mississippi Valley and the economy of the nation were it not for the protection provided by the levees and other flood control works throughout the project area. Many have noted that the comprehensive project on the lower river provided for passage of major floods in 1973, 1983, 1997, and other years without the extensive damage suffered in the upper river area during the 1993 and 1995 flood events.


In addition, the navigation features of the project are essential to maintaining the river for shipping import and export commodities between inland ports and world markets. In short, the navigation features of the MR&T project are essential in peacetime and vital to our national defense in times of emergency.


A reorganization of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in April 1997 placed the entire length of the Mississippi River within the Mississippi Valley Division of the Corps of Engineers. The Commander of this Division also serves as President of the Mississippi River Commission. This reorganization allows management of the Mississippi River as a single and unified system and enables the Commissioners to more effectively serve as advisors to the Division Commander and the Chief of Engineers as authorized in the 1879 legislation.


The Commission members have been active as advisors to the Corps on the Upper Mississippi River since the reorganization. The Commission has conducted annual inspection trips on the Upper Mississippi River since August 1997 and held a series of public meetings in the St. Paul, Rock Island, and St. Louis Districts. These meetings are in addition to the semiannual inspection trips and public meetings in the Memphis, Vicksburg, and New Orleans Districts.


Regarding my personal qualifications, I have served on the Mississippi River Commission since December 1981. This confirmation will provide my third consecutive 9-year appointment to this vital Commission. I firmly believe that my experience since 1981 in partnering with local interests, levee boards, and Federal, state, and area agencies and organizations justifies my reappointment to the Mississippi River Commission.


I am a native of Fulton County, Kentucky. I feel that many years of living and working in the New Madrid, Missouri, area and my affiliation with the Commission have given me a vast knowledge of the Mississippi River and the various challenges and issues associated with it. It has been my privilege to meet many people over the years, both in the lower valley and in the upper valley, to discuss with them their concerns regarding this powerful river.


I am a self-employed farmer and manager of cotton gins and grain elevators for the A.C. Riley Cotton Company. I currently serve on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association, Memphis, Tennessee. I am a Board Member of the Cotton Producers of Missouri, Kennett, Missouri, and a Board Member of Osceola Products Company, Osceola, Arkansas, and Kennett, Missouri. I am currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Mercantile Bank of Sikeston, Missouri. In addition, I am a member of the New Madrid County Board of Education and have served as its president since 1985.


I attended Murray State University in Kentucky and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Kentucky in 1971 (while employed with the Kentucky Department of Water Resources).


If confirmed to the position, Mr. Chairman, I would look forward to continuing to play a key role in the continual improvement of the Mississippi River system and the MR&T project by applying the most modern practices in water resources engineering. I look forward to reappointment on this Commission that focuses not only on the traditional roles of safely passing the Mississippi River Basin floodwaters to the Gulf of Mexico, but also providing a safe and dependable navigable waterway, and incorporating programs and projects for environmental protection and restoration.


Mr. Chairman, for your information, I have attached a complete personal biography and a current list of members of the Mississippi River Commission. This completes my prepared statement, and I would be pleased to respond to any questions.