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By MARK EVANS
STE. GENEVIEVE HERALD
Charter Spectrum personnel and one subcontractor came in to hash some things out with the Ste. Genevieve County Commission last Thursday.
The situation dates back more than a year, to when Spectrum began hiring subcontractors to lay cable in Ste. Genevieve County and neighboring counties. Some of the subcontractors – most notably one called MasTech – proved highly problematic.
MasTech had a bad habit of parking trucks on roadways with no cones or flagmen, as well as not properly burying cable, leaving rocks and other debris in drainage ditches, putting unwanted cable pedestals in people’s yards, blocking driveways, etc. They were also reportedly rude when confronted.
The county, as well as the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) eventually pulled their permits.
Recently, Road and Bridge Foreman Scott Schmieder made a Spectrum subcontractor, Undertown Trenching, Inc., stop work on a trench being dug for cable on Clement Road outside of Bloomsdale because they did not have a permit. Technically, it was Burns Construction, a subcontractor hired by Undertown, who was on the job.
Kelley Brownlee, construction supervisor for Underdown, said he had not been aware that the county required one. He said he has done work within the cities of Ste. Genevieve and Bloomsdale without needing one.
Schmieder said that the crew had been doing a good job before he shut them down.
The Spectrum personnel said they understood the county’s frustration with MasTech and that they had to deal with many issues caused by that subcontractor.
Brownlee began by explaining that Undertown is not working as part of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), a Federal Communications Commission initiative that focuses on bringing more broadband networks to rural America. Much of Spectrum’s work recently has been though RDOF.
“I’m not part of the RDOF and the contractors that were doing fiber all over the county,” he said. “I work for these guys under the BAU department.”
He said BAU stands for Business As Usual, as opposed to the ARDOF work.
“I go around and fix plant that’s getting messed up and I also do line extensions for homes that don’t have Charter services,” Brownlee said. “And that’s what I’m doing out on Clements Road and Skyview. I’m building off of what was put there for the Business As Usual construction department. My sub that’s doing that is Burns Construction.”
Presiding Commissioner Randy Ruzicka stopped Brownlee to clarify that Undertown is a subcontractor for Spectrum and Burns Construction is a subcontractor for Undertown.
Brownlee said that was correct.
One of the Spectrum representatives noted that the subcontractors and their subcontractors were still ultimately Spectrum’s responsibility.
Ruzicka reminded that the original agreement had been that “You’ve got to put it back the way you found it,” with no damage to roads or private property after the cable had been put in.
He related the issues the county (and surrounding counties) had with some subcontractors – most notably MasTech.
“It has been an absolute nightmare,” Ruzicka said “It has caused hours and hours of work for everyone in this room.”
He listed their many infractions. Some of the Spectrum representatives insisted that they would shut down their crews if they ever caught them doing any of the things MasTech had done.
“Spectrum, personally, from what I see you do everything right,” Ruzicka said, but noted that the earlier problems have led to “a trickle-down effect” of mistrust for cable companies.
The commissioners have been holding Zoom meetings for over a year with MasTech and Charter personnel to go over what damages still need to be repaired.
“So, the big, lingering deal is River Aux Vases Church Road,” Ruzicka said. “There’s a section, where, if you get back I there, they ran into bluff when they went to put the tubing down in the ditch. There was a ditch there before.”
He said they “basically laid it on top and filled the ditch in with great big boulders.” The county can’t mow it with the large boulders, plus the ditch no longer drains, causing damaging water to flow over the road during heavy rains.
“We’ve been round and round every month with them,” Ruzicka said.
The MasTech personnel has also been belligerent and uncooperative, Ruzicka said.
“In our minds, you guys aren’t done straightening it out,” Ruzicka said.
Brownlee stressed that River Aux Vaux Church Road had not been Underdown’s job.
“When my crews are done it will be seeded and strawed,” he said. “Everything will be done the way …”
“That’s all we ask,” Ruzicka said.
At one point Ruzicka called Nick Vitale, the manager of the Spectrum RDOF projects who is supposed to be repairing River Aux Vaux Church Road.
Vitale said he was waiting for the county to finish its culvert work on Ditch Road so he could bring in a contractor to do both projects.
“If I could get Ditch Road completed (by the county), so that I can continue with our construction, then I’ll have them down in the area to complete River Aux Vases and Ditch Road and just clean up the whole area get out of there,” Vitale said. “We’re kind of at a standstill waiting for Ditch Road to be done.”
Vitale continued to insist that he needed to wait for the Ditch Road work to be finished by the county before he could finish work on River Aux Vases Church Road.
“No, no, I’m not buying it, sir,” Ruzicka said. “I mean, it’s two completely separate projects. A project is a project. They’re not connected. That has been a sore spot for a long time. You know it. I know it. Everybody in this room knows it. There’s no reason that couldn’t have been straightened out before now. And I’m not buying this thing about Ditch Road, I’m sorry. It’s just an excuse. And I’m just going to leave it at that.”
Vitale continued to maintain that he had to be able to do both projects at once. Ruzicka wasn’t buying it.
“I don’t know why they can’t come down and do the one,” he said. “By the time they got the one done, we may have the plans for the other one. Whatever. All I’m telling you is it’s unacceptable.”
Second District Commissioner Mark Marberry also gave Vitale an earful.
“We are ultimately responsible for county roads and the maintenance thereof,” he said. “And we’ve got some issues there that are putting us perilously close to legal liability simply because you guys can’t get it together.”
Marberry later added, “You don’t really want us to have problems with legal liabilities in the world. Get down there and fix it.”
Eventually, it was agreed that a provisional permit would be granted for Underdown Ditching to continue the Clement Road work.
“We’ll just do this one step at a time,” Marberry said. “You guys show how good you are, maybe we can continue from there. We’re not making any promises. We can’t do that. But we can issue a provisional permit and get you going.”
Brownlee and the Spectrum representatives agreed.