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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Propane Shortage Hits Marinette County Hard

It is cold! That was the story all week throughout most of the nation, and particularly throughout the counties of Marinette, Oconto, Menominee, Mich. and the rest of the Midwest. The entire midwest has been hit by a propane shortage, with Marinette County probably the hardest hit, according to Emergency Government Director Eric Burmeister.

One dealer in the northern part of the county has been unable to get fuel deliveries, and other dealers, faced with heavy demands from their own regular customers have been unable to fill the gap.

By Thursday, Jan. 23, some households were being shut down and residents were moving in with family and friends because they were without heating fuel. That condition may continue for some even after delivery is available because of the price now being charged for propane is three to four times as much as it was a week or two ago.

Burmeister said the Wisconsin Petroleum Gas Association and the Wisconsin Department of Administration teamed to locate a source of fuel for the Amberg area customers. A truck from Larsen Co-Op of New London was dispatched to Kansas and returned on Tuesday, Jan. 28 with fuel for area residents who wanted to sign up and pay their $7 per gallon price. “This will take some pressure off the Marinette County vendors,” Burmeister said.

He said his biggest concern is the group of families who earn too much to qualify for the energy assistance programs but cannot afford the higher fuel prices. Some have prepaid and the money they allocated for winter fuel is already gone, but there has been no assistance allocated for them. Rising wholesale propane prices have driven consumer prices up from under $2 a gallon to more than $7 per gallon, with no end in sight. Some companies are raising their prices despite locked-in price agreements, and others have notified customers they will be making up the difference by adding extra delivery charges to the propane price.

As a result many propane customers have found themselves with empty tanks and freezing households. Some are winterizing their homes and seeking shelter with friends and relatives. At least one propane dealer is offering free winterization for homes that will be closed, and Silver Cliff Fire Department is also offering that service.

Shelters have been made available in some areas for families with nowhere else to stay warm. According to Burmeister, Red Cross shelters are now available 24/7 at the Trinity Assembly of God Church in Crivitz and the Central Middle School in Iron Mountain to serve the northern portion of Marinette County, Florence County and Dickinson County. Burmeister said those locations were chosen because they are served by natural gas and are centrally located for the people they will serve. Several towns are also offering their community facilities as warming centers, particularly for daytime use, Burmeister said.

The continuing propane shortage has been an ongoing saga that seemed to be getting worse each day, despite nearly everyone available getting board to find solutions that will keep people warm and prevent damage to their homes.

On Friday, Jan. 24, Burmeister office issued a news release explaining the propane shortage and how it is affecting Marinette County.

“Propane supplies in the Midwest, including Wisconsin, have been in short supply this winter,” Burmeister said. “Colder than normal temperatures, a month-long loss of a supply pipeline in Iowa and Minnesota, rising exports and constrained rail service, and a late corn harvest combined with heavy rains which created a higher propane use for corn drying, have all contributed to the shortage.”

According to The National Propane Gas Association, the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri are the worst hit.  “Few are willing to predict how long this supply squeeze will last.”

Burmeister told Marinette County Board on Tuesday, Jjan. 28 that Marinette County is the hardest hit area of Wisconsin because of a dealer up north who for reasons that had not yet been determined had been unable to get any propane, and therefore was not able to serve his customers, some of whom had even paid in advance. Because of the overall short supply, other dealers have not been able to fill the void, and were unable to provide fuel for customers who had money left to pay for it.

Asked what responsibility dealers have to honor prepaid agreements and locked in pricing, Jared Albrecht, Senior Communications specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), said they are working that out. He advised customers with complaints to call 800-422-7128, the DATCP consumer information line.

“Prices have skyrocketed and many propane dealers are limiting deliveries to ensure their customers continue to receive fuel for the long term,” Burmeister declared in one of his news releases. He said a survey of propane dealers in Marinette County revealed that most are not taking new customers, and are also restricting amounts to existing customers.  “It may also take longer for you to get your delivery because of the high demand.  Many of the restrictions are because they themselves are getting limited supplies,” Burmeister went on, “So contact your propane vendor when your tank reaches 30 percent full to help ensure you don’t run out before they can deliver.”

 ”As with any fuel shortage, there are things you can do to conserve and extend your fuel supply,” he advised.

Among them are:

*Lower your thermostat and wear more layers of clothing

*Seal cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations.  Check where cables (TV, phone) and pipes enter the house.

*Ensure adequate insulation in walls, attics and crawl spaces

*f you use an alternative heat source (space heater, wood stove, etc.), ensure proper ventilation and care are used.

“Unfortunately, there are few resources available to alleviate the problem,” Burmeister concluded. “Unlike widespread electrical outages, there are no repair crews to fix the problem in a matter of hours or days.  The primary concern is not having heat.  Make preparations in advance if you believe you may not be able to heat your home.  Check to see if you can stay with family or friends.  Also, check on your family, neighbors and friends who you know are at risk.

  He said one of the major concerns when temperatures drop is freezing water pipes.  Open cabinets to expose pipes to warmer room temperatures.  If pipes are vulnerable to freezing, such as in exterior walls, you should consider allowing a small trickle of water from both the hot and cold faucets.  Make sure everyone knows where the main shutoff valve is for the house.  If pipes freeze you need to shut off the water immediately.

      Preparations if you have no heat and need to leave your home you should drain the water from pipes to prevent freezing.

        First, turn off water at the main shutoff valve

        Next turn on all faucets (sinks, tubs, showers) to drain the water out of the pipes

        Remove the hoses to your washing machine and open those faucets as well

        Flush all your toilets at least twice and remove as much water as you can from the toilet bowl and tank.

         Pour RV antifreeze into all areas that may have water in them such as toilet bowl and tank, sink drains, floor drains, laundry box drains, etc.  Do NOT use automotive antifreeze because it is a biological poison which kills the bacteria in septic tank and sewer treatment systems.

        If you know how, drain your water heater tank.

If you are unsure how to perform any of these tasks, contact a licensed plumber for assistance.”

On Saturday, Jan. 25, Gov. Scott Walker declared a State of Emergency in response to the propane shortage and the extremely cold weather, and took several steps to alleviate the conditions.

Most schools were closed on Tuesday as temperatures reached minus 11 to minus 15 degrees and lower, with winds from the west and southwest at 15 to 25 miles per hour bringing wind chills as low as 45 below. At those temperatures exposed flesh can suffer frostbite in 10 to 15 minutes.

The Arctic blast also caused cancellations of many meetings, athletic events, and even a jury trial in Menominee, Mich. and forced early closings for many business places.

In his state of Emergency Declaration issued on SAturday, jan. 25, Governor directed all state agencies to be on alert and to assist as needed. 

“The health and safety of our citizens is our number one priority, and this declaration gives us the necessary resources to protect the residents of Wisconsin,” Governor Walker said.  “Since last fall, we have taken action to help alleviate the impact the propane shortage is having on our state.  I will do everything I can within my power to help our friends and loved ones relying on propane to heat their homes or businesses during this challenging situation.”

 The supply shortage in the upper Midwest has caused delivery delays and reduced delivery amounts for propane customers in Wisconsin, as well as all Midwestern states.  The propane shortage has been caused by   unusually cold winter temperatures, a major pipeline supplying propane to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa was temporarily closed for maintenance from November 28 to December 18, and an unusually wet fall increased propane demand for grain drying.

According to the news release, Governor Walker and his administration have taken numerous steps to help alleviate the effects the shortage is having on the 250,000 residents who use propane to heat their home or business including multiple Executive Orders allowing propane transport drivers to log additional hours to transport more propane.  Typically, a propane driver can drive 70 hours per week based upon Wisconsin and federal laws. Several state petroleum terminals have not been able to meet the demands of their customers and are currently on a propane rationing system.  The increased demand and limited regional supplies of propane means drivers are working more hours per day to obtain propane, causing drivers to reach maximum weekly driving and on-duty limits more quickly than normal.  Carriers continue to remain responsible for ensuring they operate safely.

 On January 3 the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Department of Administration authorized a weight limit relief order for vehicles transporting energy in the state in order to increase the amount of propane carried in a single trip. 

At the request of Wisconsin and other Midwestern states, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a Midwest regional declaration of emergency on January 19, 2014, extending state emergency declarations for purposes of exempting hours of service requirements for propane and fuel transporters; and

 On January 24, 2014, Governor Walker directed the Department of Administration’s Division of Energy Services to release $1.5 million in additional Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Crisis Benefit dollars to the 49 counties/tribes that have a high percentage of propane households.

 

The Department of Administration’s Division of Energy Services has contacted approximately 23,000 low-income propane customers recommending that they contact their propane vendor when their tank reaches 30% full to ensure they continue to have heating fuel and provided information on assistance available through the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP).

The Department of Administration’s Division of Energy Services issued information to all of the local/partner contacts for WHEAP that outlines the benefits available to customers, including the availability of Crisis Benefit dollars to pay for lodging or temporary shelters.

Wisconsin Emergency Management has contacted local emergency management directors to monitor warming sites and shelter availability.

 The Keep Wisconsin Warm Fund has agreed to temporarily allow an increase in their income limit for propane households from 60% of State Median Income to 80 percent, and will allow propane households to potentially receive an increased maximum benefit of $600 and has temporarily adjusted their policy to allow propane households the ability to potentially receive two benefit payments in a year.

Residents can also visit www.homeenergyplus.wi.gov for information about income limits and about where to apply for heating assistance through the WHEAP program.  Your local agency will determine eligibility for heating benefits based upon your household income, size, and the home’s heating costs.  If you are eligible, the WHEAP program will make a payment directly to your fuel supplier toward the cost of your propane.  These benefits are available through May 15, 2014.  Your local agency will also determine if you are eligible for Crisis Benefits.

Those who do not need assistance and have resources to share are urged to donate to the “Keep Wisconsin Warm Fund” (KWWF) to help those impacted by the crisis.   Credit card donations accepted.

The almost unprecedented period of extended cold made an already existing overall fuel shortage even worse. Wisconsin Public Service says natural gas prices also have been pushed to record levels, but barring the unforeseen, the supply is adequate to serve their customers.

“We set a daily record for natural gas use earlier this month during the polar vortex deep freeze,” said Ron Mosnik, director of gas supply. “We think we’ll approach that level in the next couple days.”

WPS has curtailed gas service to its interruptible customers. Those customers have an alternate fuel supply and receive lower rates in exchange for allowing WPS to interrupt natural gas service during periods of extremely high use. The company has also limited its transportation customers (customers who buy gas from a different supplier that WPS distributes through its gas lines) to the amount of natural gas they deliver to the natural gas system.

WPS also advises customers who choose to use other alternatives for heating to be cautious. Electric or fossil- fueled space heaters should only be used following the manufacturer’s instructions for use. They must be located away from flammable objects and in an area that allows for proper ventilation.

Customers should not use electric stoves or ovens for heat. It is dangerous. Burns could result from inadvertent contact with them. Fire is a danger if the heating coils are contacted by flammable objects.

Never use charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal produces high levels of carbon monoxide (CO) that can sicken or kill residents. CO is an invisible, tasteless gas than does not emit an odor.

“I received numerous phone calls and e-mails over the weekend from constituents who are understandably concerned with the fuel shortage,” said Rep. John Nygren of Marinette. “I have been in contact with stakeholders and agencies to get as much information as I can. Working together with Governor Walker and the propane industry, we are trying to find a solution to the problem.”

 He said on Saturday, Jan. 25 Governor Scott Walker declared a State of Emergency in response to the propane shortage due to the extremely dangerous temperatures, which puts all state agencies on alert to be prepared to assist as needed.

 ”Governor Walker also instructed the Department of Administration’s Division of Energy Services to release an additional $7 million in energy assistance benefits to support Wisconsin residents who use propane to heat their homes,” Nygren said, and advised calling call toll-free, 1-866-HEATWIS, to apply locally for assistance toward your propane heating bill.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has also been instructed to move forward with a $5 million loan guarantee program. to provide operating funds for Wisconsin propane dealers. “As wholesale prices rise in the Midwest, propane commercial retailers have exhausted their current lines of credit to meet their customer’s rising demand for propane. WEDC will be able to provide additional funds to help those local businesses buy larger quantities to deliver to their customers sooner,” Nygren said in a news release Tuesday, Jan. 28.

  “We will continue to monitor the situation and get out as much information as possible,” said Nygren. “Please know that we will continue to work to find ways to ease the burden of skyrocketing propane prices and lack of supply.”

An update issued Wednesday morning states, “The propane shortage continues to impact residents of Marinette County with no long term solution in sight. The Marinette County Emergency Management Office is coordinating local efforts to provide assistance to citizens in need. The State of Wisconsin has opened up more funding to energy assistance programs for those that primarily heat with propane. Income levels are 60% of the State Median Income for the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP). Those numbers are 1 person, $2,058 per month, $24,692 per year; 2 persons, $2,691 per month, $32,290 per year; 3 persons, $3,324 per month, $39,887 per year; 4 persons, $3,957 per month, $47,485, 5 persons, $4,590 per month, $55,083 per year, up to $5,461 per month and $65,529 per year for households with 8 persons.

Residents are urged to contact the Marinette County Energy Assistance Program as the first step in procuring assistance. The phone number is 715-732-7740. While the line is very busy, averaging 200 callers per day, Kris Parkansky, Economic Support Manager, has stated that all phone calls have been returned the day received. Callers should be prepared to leave a message containing their name, address, telephone number, propane vendor name, and the percentage of gas left in their tank. An eligibility screening is then completed for WHEAP. If qualified, the Energy Worker authorizes a propane delivery; however, that may still take several days as dealers have to fit extra deliveries into their schedules. If it is determined that the caller does not qualify for WHEAP, eligibility will be determined for the Keep Wisconsin Warm Fund (KWWF). Income levels have been increased to 80 percent of the State Median Income for KWWF.

Those levels range from $8,231 per month and $32,923 per year for one person households on up to as high as $91,171 a year for a 10-person household.

Residents are cautioned that this could be a lengthy process so are urged to call for assistance when their tank reaches 30 per cent.

Burmeister said Marinette County departments are hearing concerns from families who do not qualify for state assistance but are having a hard time finding or affording propane. “We will continue to work to resolve issues regarding access to propane. Prices have risen dramatically in the last few days, putting a financial strain on already tight budgets,” Burmeister said. “If your vendor is unable to fulfill your contract or you have concerns over pricing, you should call the State DATCP’s Consumer Complaint Hotline at 1-800-422-7128 or file a complaint online at: http://datcp.wi.gov/Consumer/Consumer_Complaints/Online_Complaint_Form/Consumer_Complaint/index.aspx

Burmeister said several towns have offered their town hall or other community building as warming centers for their residents, but suggested this should be a last resort for residents who need a short term place to stay, either until propane gets delivered or they can make other arrangements. Residents should call the contact below to make arrangements: Athelstane, Town Chair John Dobratz, 715-856-5535 (home); Amberg, Town Chair Matt Mattison, 715-759-5640 (home); Beecher, Town Chair Bob Gehri, 715-923-1240 (cell); Stephenson, Town Clerk Elaine Olson 715-854-2942 (home) or Town Chair Mike Kudick 715-927-3145 (cell).

Silver Cliff is utilizing their Fire/Rescue building. If the door is locked, a phone number is posted on the door.

Wausaukee Library, 703 Main St., is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has created an Emergency Loan Guarantee Program for Certified Propane Dealers. According to Jonathan Bartz, Regional Account Manager with WEDC, the aim of this program is to provide an incentive to financial institutions to extend lines of credit to propane dealers in Wisconsin so that they can meet the demands for this critical heating fuel. Dealers can visit the following web page for more information: http://inwisconsin.com/grow-your-

After meeting Wednesday, Jan 29 with representatives from the propane industry and state government officials, Governor Scott Walker instructed the Department of Administration’s Division of Energy Services to release an additional $7 million in energy assistance benefits, for a total of $8.5 million in additional funds, to help support low-income Wisconsin residents who use propane to heat their homes.   The Governor also directed the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority to move forward with a combined $8 million in loan guarantee programs to help ensure propane dealers are able to obtain propane on the wholesale market and deliver it to consumers.

 “Today, I met with state and industry leaders to determine if there are additional steps we can take to manage through the current crisis and help protect our citizens who rely on propane for heat,” Governor Walker said.  “While we cannot produce more propane ourselves, I have directed additional funds be made available to help our most vulnerable citizens pay for the fuel they need and ensure propane dealers are able to obtain and deliver the supply we do have.”

 Following today’s meeting, the Governor has:

*Directed the Department of Administration’s Division of Energy Services to release an additional $7 million in Crisis Benefits to counties and tribes that have households who use propane to heat their homes.  The state will make funds available in anticipation of receiving additional federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds that were included in the recent federal omnibus budget bill.  The $7 million released today is in addition to the $1.5 million that was released on January 24.

 *Instructed the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to move forward with $5 million loan guarantee program.  WEDC will provide loan guaranties to banks up to 80% of new or expanded lines of credit to propane dealers in Wisconsin.  As wholesale prices rise in the Midwest, propane commercial retailers have exhausted their current lines of credit to meet their customer’s rising demand for propane.  This program will require WEDC Board approval.  An emergency teleconference meeting of the Board of Directors was scheduled.

*Directed the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) to proceed with $3 million loan guarantee program.  WHEDA will provide loan guaranties to banks of 50% of a total loan for dealers to purchase propane, but not to exceed $50,000 guarantee amount.  This will require approval by WHEDA’s Members Loan Committee.

“Our focus right now is ensuring we keep all Wisconsin residents safe during this time,” said Governor Walker.  “And while abnormal weather was a major factor in this current crisis, we also must take steps to ensure we do not face this situation again in the future.”

The Governor outlined the following series of actions:

*Calling on the Federal Trade Commission to review the recent price spike in wholesale propane price to ensure no anti-competitive activity occurred.

*Calling on the Federal Department of Energy to review the impact of propane exports on domestic supply and price.

*Asking other Midwestern States, through the Midwest Governor’s Association, jointly review current propane delivery infrastructure and work cooperatively to ensure prudent, cost-effective investments are made.

*Forming a Wisconsin propane task force of industry, government and other stakeholders to make recommendations on steps Wisconsin can take to minimize the potential for future shortages.

 The Governor also urged state legislators to pass AB596.  Included in this bill is a provision that would allow the Public Service Commission, under certain circumstances, to make it easier for a gas utility to enter into an adjacent service territory to offer natural gas service to new customers.  This would make it easier for some customers to access natural gas, instead of, or in addition to, propane. 


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Barb J. Micech

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Mildred Metzler

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Jeffery F. Marquardt Sr.

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Allan R. Marcks

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Gilberte R. Leslie

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June Y. Lepianka

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Alden A. Le Fave

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Marc E. Laurent

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Charlotte King

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Chester W. Johnson Jr.


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