Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

'Rural Infrastructure Listening Tour' stops in Moose


Lois E. Johnson

Staff from Sen. Al Franken's office visit with local officials in Moose Lake Wednesday for a listening session to learn about infrastructure needs of small communities in the area.

Staff members from U.S. Sen. Al Franken's office visited Moose Lake on Wednesday, September 28, for a listening session to learn about infrastructure needs of small communities in the area.

"This is one of 20 listening sessions across the state where we are hearing about specific needs," said Jake Schwitzer, a state policy advisor from Sen. Franken's St. Paul office. "Infrastructure is nowhere more important than in the rural area. In order to meet today's needs, we need infrastructure."

Schwitzer said information gathered at the listening session will be used by Sen. Franken when he fights for rural communities in the Senate and decides how to best fight for the needs of the state.

"We will see what is holding communities back," said Schwitzer. "We want to know about your issues with water and sewer, power, housing and broadband. Many have said they need more money and less red tape. Let us know what regulation is getting in the way."

Representatives in attendance were from Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC), Carlton County, the city of Sandstone, city of Moose Lake, Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), and Moose Lake Community School.

The first request for funding came from Connie Christenson of Carlton County Economic Development.

"We need $70 million for adequate broadband access in Carlton County," she said. "We have underserved and unserved areas in the county."

Jessica Seibert, city administrator of Sandstone, spoke about the millions needed to repair water and sewer systems in that community.

"This doesn't include new systems, it is just for repairs," she said. "Failing systems limit our opportunities for growth. One project has been completed from the Capital Improvement Plan from 2012, and that was a new road into the business park. We can't keep raising taxes. We are surviving on Local Government Aid (LGA).

"All of our sidewalks need to be replaced. There are tripping hazards. But we can only do three squares at a time. Our streets need to be replaced, too. When new businesses come, they look at downtown. They see bad streets and sidewalks and dilapidated buildings."

Dennis Genereau, Carlton County coordinator, spoke about broadband access.

"When we have providers like Century Link and Frontier, they get to cherry pick the areas they want to provide service to. We need a co-op or something like that to tackle everyone else's issues.

"We need action at a higher level, maybe federal. Maybe providers should take an area instead of having to serve what is left over."

Moose Lake Mayor Ted Shaw pointed out issues both Sandstone and Moose Lake face.

"We have a unique structure," he said. "There is close to 2,800 in population, but 1,500 are incarcerated in the two state facilities. The actual population is 1,200-1,300. Seventy percent of the land within the city is non-taxable because of the state facilities, the school district property, the hospital and the churches. That leaves a very small tax base from the small population and businesses.

"In most communities, there is a mass exodus each day when people leave the community to go to work. Here, there is a mass influx of people because of the two state facilities, hospital and the school. There are lots of jobs and lots of people use our infrastructure. It is impossible for our taxpayers to pay; we do a small bit each year. We can't think of doing infrastructure.

"LGA is critical. And we work with the county. We have a good working relationship.

"We looked at a local option sales tax. The Legislature said we had to go to the people first for a vote. The idea of a local tax passed wildly in the city. It is a way for communities like Moose Lake to use contributions from the people who come to Moose Lake. But, unfortunately, it won't pass in the Legislature. You can leave it at a vote, but remove the red tape."

Shaw also spoke about broadband.

"Moose Lake has its own broadband that reaches out into the county," he said. "If the money were available, it would be a way for Moose Lake to make a difference. Ours is a 15-year-old system. The system should be upgraded every five years. People stop me and tell me that the city not dare to stop providing the service. It is the way that their kids get their homework done.

"It is hard to justify the cost because of competition from Mediacom. Ninety percent of the Moose-Tec customers are outside of the city limits. We can't qualify for the border-to-border grant. It's back on the city and the utility to pay for the service."

Genereau spoke about the problems his own family faces because of slow Internet service.

"We have three kids that do homework every night," he said. "I've got the best Internet service that I can get but when the kids are using it, it just spins and spins and spins. Sometimes homework isn't done because of that. We need the kids to be involved to stay competitive."

Moose Lake Community School Superintendent Robert Indihar added the school has broadband service through the Northeast Service Co-op.

"The schools are all going digital," he said. "But residents west of Kettle River have to pay a high price for high speed Internet service.

"I want Franken to go after the Higher Learning Program and how to get college in the schools. Have him look at the enrollment in the schools."

Lack of housing is also an issue.

"Seven percent of the employees at the MSOP live in the area," said Shaw. "As time goes on, they want to live closer to work. They start looking for housing close by, but it's not there. The housing that is there is old or it is smaller homes."

The lack of housing affects other areas.

"Housing insecurity or lack of housing is driving up health care costs," said Dave Lee of Carlton County Public Health. "We also see the effect in the Criminal Justice System.

"Broadband has opened up avenues and opportunities in the seven-county area. We have to be able to deliver services, such as telehealth and tele-social services, and electronic health records. In Carlton County, there are different electronic health systems. We need to get them so they can talk to each other. We need tele-psychiatry in the jails and schools, as well as clinical social workers in the schools.

"This is the time, this is the fork in the road to get some standards in place."


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