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Missouri’s Marshall Municipal Utilities GM Credits Employees, Board With Strong Safety Record

Safety for employees at Missouri public power utility Marshall Municipal Utilities “is something we stress day in and day out” and being able to sustain a strong safety record has been achieved thanks to the dedication of its employees, as well as support from the utility’s Board of Public Works, said Jeff Bergstrom, General Manager for the utility, in a recent Q&A with Public Power Current.

The utility earned APPA’s Safety Award of Excellence for safe operating practices in 2023. It earned a Diamond level designation in the category for utilities with 110,000 to 249,999 worker-hours of annual worker exposure.

Bergstrom noted that safety is “not something you just wake up one day and go, hey, we’re going to be safer and we’re not going to have any more injuries or accidents.” It is “really about developing a culture and cultures take time to develop. Fortunately for us, the board has really taken an interest in safety,” he said.

“It’s taken years to get to this point. I think when it starts with your board that certainly makes it easier. It’s been a long process. It’s a continuing process. It’s not something you just get there and then [say] OK, we’re fine,” Bergstrom said.

“Safety is something we stress day in and day out. We promote ourselves as a safety first culture and I think getting the employees to understand that we don’t care if it takes you a little bit longer to complete something if you do it the right way and you don’t get hurt,” he said, adding “We’re going to continue to promote a safety first culture.”

Bergstrom said, “I have to commend the employees. It takes buy in from your employees because they’re the ones out there every day making these good decisions to go home at the end of the day and be safe.”

Along with receiving APPA’s Safety Award of Excellence, the utility has also been designated at the platinum level for APPA’s Reliable Public Power Provider program.

“We’re not a big utility. We’ve got 6,000 electric customers,” Bergstrom pointed out.

“When you work for a utility like that, you pretty much know everybody. You’ve got friends, family, neighbors…and there’s a lot of pride in being able to provide that level of service for your hometown, your community, and all the people you know within it,” he said.

“If we have an outage, or if something goes wrong, I think a lot of our staff takes it personally,” he said.

In his role as General Manager, Bergstrom oversees the planning and operation “of all our utility departments as directed by our board.”  This includes policies, budget, rates and keeping the board aware of any changes in industry regulations. He also makes himself available to help staff with any projects that are being worked on.

Ongoing Projects

As for ongoing projects at the utility, Bergstrom noted that the utility is currently in the process of replacing a 15-kV medium voltage switch gear. “We just recently awarded the bid,” he said.

In 2002, the Board of Public Works authorized the establishment of an Internet Department at the utility. This set the stage for MMU to provide wireless and fiber high-speed Internet service to its customers.

The utility has over 4,100 broadband customers.

Bergstrom noted that the utility received U.S. Department of Agriculture ReConnect grants “to expand fiber through most of the county. We received two grants. We had a round one grant – it was about a two-mile radius of Marshall. That grant has been completed. We’ve started the second grant, which expands out from that two-mile radius.”

The total of these grants is around $10 million.

In addition, the utility is in the middle of a gas turbine overhaul. “We’re hoping to have that back in service in June,” he said.

“We have been working with our state association to possibly add some more gas turbine generation here,” Bergstrom added.

MMU is a member of the Missouri Public Utility Alliance.

“We’re real excited to be able to do that and help out some other members,” he said. Utilities “are struggling for capacity,” he noted. “We would like to have this project that we’re working on done by the summer of 2026.”

Bergstrom was also asked to provide examples of how the utility engages with its customers in terms of keeping them up to date on activities at Marshall Municipal Utilities and letting the customers know about the benefits of public power.

He noted that the utility utilizes social media and issues news releases. In addition, the utility livestreams board meetings.

Bergstrom has also made presentations at service clubs such as the Kiwanis Club and Lions Club.

In addition, Marshall Municipal Utilities also provides tours of its various facilities to members of the Marshall, Mo., community.