Blunt holds discussion at Freeburg

By Linda Adkins, Staff Writer
Posted 5/18/22

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt met with Osage County officials on Saturday at Freeburg to discuss “whatever they would like to talk about.” 

Among those in attendance were Rep. Bruce …

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Blunt holds discussion at Freeburg

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Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt met with Osage County officials on Saturday at Freeburg to discuss “whatever they would like to talk about.” 

Among those in attendance were Rep. Bruce Sassmann, Chamois Mayor Elise Brochu, Freeburg Mayor Darryl Haller, Sheriff Mike Bonham, and Osage County Presiding Commissioner Darryl Griffin. 

Blunt had visited constituents in Maries County earlier, where the talk was mostly about broadband, finding money, and the best way to use it. That is where the conversation began in Freeburg. 

BROADBAND

In Osage County, there are still areas of unserved space, particularly toward Chamois. Blunt said that recent events made it clear what a difference it makes for those who do not have broadband, especially when there is a reason to work from home, attend school virtually, or consult with a doctor remotely.

The legislature has come up with money in the last couple of sessions, certainly this year and last year, to put some state money on the table, and there is a lot of money in the infrastructure bills. “I think we’re at the point that if we don’t have enough money to solve this, it’s not a money problem,” said Blunt. “It will make a big difference in whether communities like Freeburg grow. Many people like to live in towns where school and church activities are a big thing, and a lot of people like that, but not if you can’t be connected to an economy of opportunity for them.” 

People who found themselves working at home realized that without the necessity of being near their workplace, they could look for a place where they wanted to live. “That could be here,” said Blunt, “but it won’t be unless we can figure his out.”

Griffin remarked on his observations, saying, “We have Cable America, Radiowire, and Wisper, who was given a lot of money to make this happen.” 

The problem, according to Griffin, is those providers do not want to share information with each other. “We’re not going to get anywhere because nobody wants to share their secrets,” said Griffin. “My personal opinion, do you put a wire up? There’s a lot of hills and hollers in Osage County; broadband just isn’t going to get it.”

Often in Missouri, rural electric cooperatives have stepped up. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.

Richard Eisterhold of Three Rivers said they have been investigating this for at least 10 years. Their studies conclude it is cost-prohibitive for them. The break-even point, according to Eisterhold, was 5.25 households per mile, paying $112 per month. 

“When you look at those numbers, not many people are paying $112 per month, and we only have 4.3 or 4.4 houses per mile”, he said, “So we’re immediately short of revenue even if every household did it.”

In a 2016 study, the cost had almost doubled. Fiber is expensive, and when more is added to the poles, they need to be stronger, taller, fatter, and closer together, adding to the cost without even considering the cost of fiber. 

Eisterhold agreed with Griffin that the companies are cautious about sharing their plans. Initially, he claimed, everything was open and upfront, but Wisper, in particular, had shared plans of where they were going next, only to have someone beat them to the punch. 

Wireless works by starting with a center point, bringing fiber to the tower, and serving the radios from that tower in whatever service radius can be established. Only after that service area has been built will additional towers be added. Wireless is more economical from the providers’ point of view. 

“Fiber is a better long-term commitment,” said Blunt. 

Blunt has complained to the FCC that if the companies they have chosen do it here can’t make it happen, the rule is that the money established for that purpose goes back into the overall pot to be reallocated around the country. His hope is that the money set aside for Missouri will stay here.

“I don’t believe wireless providers is the way to go here, said Blunt, “but I’d be pleased to be proved wrong.”

In three years, Wisper was expected to have service to 40% of locations. Eisterhold believes they are, saying they are picking up a large group of people from the big towers. The next step is to add towers to serve more people. 

“That’s the best news on Wisper I’ve heard from anybody,” Blunt responded.

Wisper has four operational towers in Osage County with a base package starting at $25 per month. The company has made some strategic partnerships with Cable One and Cable America and has taken on a lot of households. The huge issue with wireless is having enough airspace. Cable One has a lot of airspace.

THE WAR ON FOSSIL FUELS

Blunt asked about rate increases at electric cooperatives. Three Rivers’ last rate study was in 2016. In early 2017, Three Rivers had its last rate increase. “We made it five years without a rate increase, but one year into this administration, our costs are skyrocketing,” said Eisterhold. “It’s very clear there is a war on fossil fuels, and it’s going to drive up rates.” 

“And it started the day after the election,” said Blunt. “What is happening is exactly what they have said they wanted to happen. They want to have a regulatory environment that makes fossil fuels more expensive, so people have to choose the alternatives. This has a huge impact on inflation. It hits everybody in areas they can’t avoid.”

Mayor Haller said Freeburg is trying to asphalt streets. “Asphalt is through the roof,” he said, approximating about half as much product for the same price as two years ago.

Blunt said in California, the governor wants to send residents a monthly check to help offset the expenses of their policies. “That’s just crazy,” Blunt said. “With the election out there in six months or so, they don’t want to face the results of what they intended to do.”

Blunt says Americans could learn a lesson from Europe. He suggested that a look at Germany would make one realize that going to alternatives requires a responsible plan and enough time to get there.

Germany has only one or two nuclear plants running under the Green Party. “So they got more fuel from Russia,” said Blunt. “You have a less environmentally-friendly fuel from someone you clearly should not be captive to do business with. I think most of this stuff could work if you were trying to do it between now and 2050. This is devastating the economy and devastating the people trying to pay their bills.”

Blunt added that starting to build an alternative power plant today would take 10 years to finish. 

“If you’re looking to do that, we have a good spot right outside Chamois,” said Brochu.

BRIDGES 

Griffin said there are 72 bridges in the county. He is concerned about the changes the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is making on how they fund county bridges. Up to now, counties have received BRO money and soft match money. That is going away, and monies will go into one pot for the whole state, allowing counties to compete for it. 

Talk of bridge money brought commentary from Brochu. “We’ve got a great spot,” she said. “We need somebody who is interested in developing it and a new bridge. The area between Jefferson City and Hermann is the longest stretch of the Missouri River between Omaha and St. Louis without a bridge.”

“You sound like Merrill Townley,” Blunt responded. 

“We’ve gotten a handshake on ‘if you can find some matching funds, we can find most of it,’ and a handshake on ‘we got half of your matching funds if you can fund the other half.’ Granted, it’s just still talk,” she added.

Blunt discussed the reopening of the Missouri River for navigation. Senators agree that the southern part of the Missouri River should be treated differently than the northern part. “If you’re going to put something on the water, it’s more competitive the earlier it gets there,” said Blunt. 

“We’re got the spot, we’ve got the rail spur; we just don’t have the person who wants to develop it,” Brochu replied.

“I hear what you’re saying,” Blunt said.

JOBS 

“One of our biggest problems … we can’t get workers,” said Griffin. He does not think money is the problem, just that people do not want to work anymore. “There’s been too many handouts from the government, and they expect it now.”

“That’s very frustrating,” Blunt acknowledged. 

Mayor Haller has worked at Quaker for 30 years. “We want to expand,” he said. “We have room for 70-80 people and the best wages in the area, but we can’t get them there because of the handouts; they want to stay at home. We gotta make people work for a living and quit picking up their check at the post office.”

Blunt said he was publicly opposed to most of that. First, everybody got $600, then $1,400, adding that “85% of Missourians got that check and about 84% of them wanted it.”

Blunt said that less than 6% of the $1.9 trillion bill that no Republican voted for was related to COVID relief. The economy was well on the way to recovery, he added. Typically, a $1.9 trillion bill is spent over 10 years. That money was spent over 10 months. The only thing that kept it from continuing was it ran out of steam before “Build Back Better” came into effect. 

Blunt said there is a different attitude about work. Jobs that used to be coveted and people would keep for a lifetime, like MoDOT, cannot keep people. “Almost no young worker takes a job based on getting a retirement check in 25 years,” said Blunt. “None of them expect to be there 25 years. It’s hard to grow if you can’t fill the jobs you currently have.”

FARMING 

The impact of what is going on in Ukraine should be significant. A large percentage of fertilizer comes from Ukraine, leading to skyrocketing prices. Ukraine also produces a huge amount of grain that normally goes to Africa. The war in Ukraine will lead to a higher demand for our American grain products. 

“There is no good short-term solution,” said Blunt. “Your choices are to not plant or pay the price and hope it works out.’ 

Blunt said Bayer is working on synthetic biology, including corn that produces its own nitrogen. He expects this synthetic biology to be a significant economic mover over the next 10 years. “I think things like that will be part of the solution,” he added.

World food demand will double in the next 30 years. “I don’t know any other business you could start today and could be guaranteed with certainty that demand for your product would be doubled from the beginning to the end of your career,” Blunt said. “The refocus on rivers, the disruption in Ukraine. Four hundred million people fed by Ukraine grain won’t go there this year. More money into buying grain here. There is no good answer for now. All of this is a real challenge right now.”

Asked about his impending retirement, he plans to do everything he can before leaving office. He shared a story in which someone in Jefferson City had told him recently they hated to see him go and said it must be a challenging job. “I have no complaints,” Blunt responded. “My parents were dairy farmers. With this job, most of the work is inside, and there is not much heavy lifting.”

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