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story.lead_photo.caption This 2017 file photo shows Millie Atkins, right, speaking with other panel members, from left, Todd Shields, Angie Maxwell, Al Cross, and Lee Powell, Executive Director of the Delta Grassroots Caucus, at the Clinton Library during the second day of the 2017 Delta Caucus. The opening session of the 2019 conference will be at 5-7 p.m. today at the Capitol rotunda.

Representatives from Little Rock and the Delta are joining in a partnership that aims to use their combined influence to benefit both regions of the state.

The Delta/Little Rock Partnership for Progress will be unveiled today during the annual eight-state Greater Delta Region Conference in Little Rock. Sponsored by the Delta Grassroots Caucus, the conference will focus on matters including transportation, levees, housing and other infrastructure.

The partnership concentrates on Arkansas but includes most of the larger eight-state Greater Delta Region that runs from Illinois and Missouri, through Arkansas and Mississippi, and into Louisiana.

"There will probably be some policy and other issues that have common interests to all of us, and this partnership will allow us to speak with one voice," said state Rep. Andrew Collins, D-Little Rock, who represents District 35. "We have been traditionally seen as separate regions, but we have so many common problems and common interests."

Lee Powell, executive director of the Delta Grassroots Caucus, said Little Rock and the Delta have worked together before, specifically when it came to the Arkansas Works Medicaid expansion program, but a partnership has never been fully organized.

The partnership will primarily focus on federal and state issues, such as federal and state funding of highways like Interstate 57 from Little Rock to Sikeston, Mo., that require cooperation across the entire state, as well as with state and federal officials.

"Despite the rural and urban differences between Little Rock and the Delta, we have a lot of things that make us similar," Powell said. "Little Rock has diverse, economically distressed neighborhoods that we also see in the east Arkansas.

"We don't see Little Rock and the Delta as two separate areas."

One of the primary things the partnership will address is levee improvements along Arkansas' river systems, which officials hope will lead to better responses concerning flood control. Kay Goss, a former associate director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will be among the speakers. Officials and residents from flood-damaged areas will attend as well, Powell said.

The attention comes in the aftermath of historic flooding along the Arkansas River earlier this year. Flooding affected communities across the state, from Fort Smith in western Arkansas to Pendleton in eastern Arkansas, and ultimately led to a presidential declaration for federal assistance.

"We need to improve these levee systems," Powell said. "With climate change, the flooding will only get worse. Most levee boards do a good job, but the ones that don't, it can affect us all."

Powell said now is the time to address levee concerns.

"After a disaster, complacency can set in and nothing is done until the next disaster comes," he said. "This is the time to focus on it. We need a strong dialogue to deal with the flooding."

The opening session of the conference will be 5-7 p.m. today at the Capitol rotunda. Friday's session will be 8:30 a.m.-1:15 p.m. at the Robinson Center Ballroom.

State Desk on 11/07/2019

Print Headline: LR, Delta join forces to meet shared goals

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