FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul are urging Gov. Steve Beshear to seek a federal disaster declaration because of the potential economic consequences of a drought that has led to low water levels on the Mississippi River.
Beshear said Friday he appreciates their concern and that he's closely monitoring the situation.
McConnell and Paul said in a letter to Beshear on Thursday that commercial traffic on the river could "come to a complete halt in coming days" unless the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers takes action to increase the water flow.
"We are informed that shipment of over $7 billion in goods on the Mississippi River could be blocked over the coming months due to this entirely avoidable event," they wrote.
They urged Beshear to request the federal disaster declaration, hoping that might "trigger a response from the Obama Administration."
The senators described the diminishing water levels on the river as "a looming crisis" that could affect Kentucky's shipping, agriculture and manufacturing sectors.
"I have been closely monitoring the issues related to the Mississippi River's water levels and its ensuing impacts on transportation, trade and jobs in our state," Beshear said.
Beshear said the Corps of Engineer, acting at the request of him and officials in other affected states, has expedited the letting of a contract to demolish rock formations that could cause a bottleneck for shipping on the river.
"This week, I met with the head of the Louisville district of the Corps of Engineers to get the latest information on the Corps' plans for the river," he said. "I also held a conference call with local officials in western Kentucky counties to share information about the river levels as well as impacts in those communities. I am in the process of scheduling calls with Gov. Nixon of Missouri and Gov. Quinn of Illinois so we can determine collective next steps."
Beshear said his office hasn't yet received the letter from McConnell and Paul.
"I appreciate the Senators' interest, and I am committed to working with all our partners to ensure a safe and practical outcome for our citizens in western Kentucky," he said.