UPDATE: Klobuchar meets with Nobles, Cottonwood county officials to talk infrastructure
Senator Klobuchar met with representatives from Nobles, Cottonwood, Watonwan, and Brown County to get updates on their communities and hear about their infrastructure needs.
WORTHINGTON — Sen. Amy Klobuchar met with local County Commissioners from southwest Minnesota on Friday afternoon to discuss infrastructure needs and receive updates on the communities they serve.
Klobuchar was a vocal supporter of the bipartisan infrastructure law enacted in November, which devotes federal resources to projects across the nation, including several of the senator’s key priorities in Minnesota. Those include improving the state's roads and rail systems, as well as building high-speed broadband infrastructure and repairing and replacing bridges and highways.
“I advocate for funding for you in two ways,” said Klobuchar. “One is the funding that will come through the state…and then the second way will be direct grants that, especially for some of the smaller towns…that you'll be getting from the Department of Transportation.”
Among some of the key issues during the meeting were water and road infrastructure, broadband access and workforce shortages. As part of the infrastructure bill, $65 billion has been allocated for broadband assistance, which Klobuchar stated will mean “hundreds of millions of dollars for Minnesota." The bill also includes funding to build out broadband to reach schools, libraries and healthcare centers.
“We've got 42 million Americans including 144,000 rural Minnesotans without high speed (internet),” Klobuchar said, addressing the commissioners. “And it's a problem that I know you have in your counties.”
Klobuchar also stated that Minnesota would receive at least $45 billion for highways and that the infrastructure bill included $55 billion for water infrastructure.
“That just gives you a sense of the kind of money we're talking about — the direct impact that it's going to have on your area of the state,” Klobuchar stated.
In both Nobles County and Cottonwood County, water infrastructure and broadband were brought up as major concerns by Nobles County Commissioner Donald Linssen and Cottonwood County Commissioner Larry Anderson. Linssen identified the need for fiber-to-home broadband as one of Nobles County’s top priorities, with $2 million currently being requested for related work being done by a Lismore phone company.
Anderson also expressed the need for broadband access in Cottonwood County, stating: “We are really fragmented as to what we have. We have probably about three or four companies that have towers and are wireless. We have several companies that are providing fiber to the small towns and it's leaving a lot of holes in between.”
Both counties have small communities struggling to comply with waste water treatment requirements, while shouldering the costs necessary to make improvements to those systems and not being able to expand their communities because of that inability to comply.
“You’re saying it’s like chicken and egg,” said Klobuchar. “If they can get…that sewage infrastructure, then they could add more homes.”
For Nobles County, issues include cell phone reception near the Minnesota-Iowa border and the need for more support for emergency medical services like ambulances.
“We feel that EMS should be acknowledged as a central service like police and fire,” Linssen stated. “And we're very concerned that if if we don't supplement this, that we're having a hard time having people that want to volunteer..."
Concerns regarding child care and worker shortages were also brought to the table by Linssen, citing fears across school districts and medical fields about workers staying home because they cannot find adequate child care, while also noting that workforce shortages could be helped by continued efforts to support immigrants and migrant workers.
“I think our immigration system needs to be made easier and quicker for people to get citizenship,” Linssen said. “…I think that’s another big issue.”
Klobuchar stated that the workforce shortage is something that she is frequently concerned over, especially in rural Minnesota.
“To me that answer is focusing funding on making sure we're training students for the jobs that we have available," said Klobuchar, "whether they're truck drivers, school bus drivers, electricians, plumbers, [and] creating incentives for people to go into those occupations...where we have a shortage.
“Immigrant Visas, increasing those caps, as well as work-permit paths to citizenship and the like could be a game changer. So I'm really open for ideas on that front, too. Because I know what an issue is in rural Minnesota.”