OSBURN — Prominent members of the community gathered Tuesday afternoon at Shoshone County Fire District No. 1 to participate in a “Rural Development Rally.”
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Idaho recently launched the roundup to engage with rural areas to learn and understand community issues, concerns, and goals, and examine ways in which rural development can meet community needs.
USDA Idaho State Director Rudy Soto told the group that “we want to hear more about the opportunities and challenges you face here in hopes that we can find out how you support more”.
The community hall was filled with members of the Silver Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Silver Valley Economic Development Corporation, as well as representatives from school districts, local business owners, landowners and many others working for different municipalities.
“We’re here to listen to what you have to say about the community, the region, and the particular challenges that region might face,” said Howard Lunderstadt, USDA Community Program Specialist.
Some key issues that were discussed during the roundtable were housing, internet and access to the infrastructure already in place and updating it.
The lack of housing, rents or the high price of available rents were mentioned, as well as problems specific to the municipalities.
Different towns in the Silver Valley have their specific challenges, but one concern on everyone’s mind is the lack of affordable housing.
Osburn City Clerk/Treasurer Lisa Millard was impassioned as she explained how dire the housing situation was for one of Silver Valley’s largest dormitory communities.
“We don’t have a lot of buildable properties in Osburn,” Millard said. “We are pretty much built and have no room to build. For us, we lack available rentals.
Due to the lack of rentals, Osburn is beginning to see citizens living in RVs on properties and connecting to city services.
“We have a lot of people who have land, and they want to bring in campers and allow people to live in those campers,” Millard said. “We operate on the local city sewer, and the sewer district and campers connect to city services without us knowing.”
Osburn has a small RV park which is almost always full.
“The city has land that could potentially be used for a new RV park, but then you look at the infrastructure and you have to ask yourself if that’s something the city wants to look at,” Millard said.
Surrounding towns in the region are struggling with housing shortages differently, with many homes being bought up and turned into short-term rentals like AirBnbs or VRBO, which are often rented out by tourists temporarily visiting the area.
Another challenge that members of the Silver Valley community face is access to up-to-date infrastructure.
Jon Groth, an employee of the Water and Sewer District in Kingston, spoke about the issues that are prevalent in his job.
“Every winter we get a call from someone running a lot of heaters causing their electrical service to burn out which is an emergency. You need to install a new panel to fix it. The materials alone could cost a few thousand dollars,” Groth said. “And these people just can’t afford that.”
Groth explained that with older homes, there can often be costly issues with sewer lines.
Millard said members of his community also face the challenge of paying when an unexpected landlord expense occurs.
“We see that happen, when someone buys a new house and later finds out their sewer line is about to collapse,” she said. “And I don’t know anything out there to help people like that.”
The third hot topic of discussion was broadband internet and its accessibility for people living in rural areas. Colleen Rosson, Shoshone County Grants Administrator, explained the problem this area faces when it comes to broadband.
“What I often see with broadband funding is that a lot of federal funding, in fact most of the funding, goes to fiber-specific internet. But as you can see, our county isn’t ideal to put that on,” Rosson said. “Right now, we’re putting together a rapid design to come out and show what works and doesn’t work, and then design the infrastructure alongside that.”
Rosson went on to explain that there are members of the Silver Valley community who live in rural areas of approximately 20-30 people who do not have access to cell phone service or the internet, due to lack of funding or willingness to build for an area. with this small population. It also affects local schools, as students living in the more remote areas of the Silver Valley do not have access to the internet or cell phone service.
These are not problems that can be fixed quickly, as they take time, money and resources. Different grants and programs were discussed, provided by the USDA to ensure that more eligible rural areas, entities and residents of Idaho increase their use of available programs. For questions about available programs provided by the USDA, you can call Rudy Soto at 208-378-5601 or Howard Lunderstadt at 208-209-4367.
For more information on USDA Rural Development, visit https://www.rd.usda.gov/id