The Marquette Township Board is expected to hear comments tonight from the Upper Peninsula Petroleum Association and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community on whether a small corner of land in the location of the former Tres Amigos Restaurant should be the site of a tribe-owned gas station.
KBIC is presently preparing a trust application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. If approved, the tribe plans to open a tax-free gas station, a kind of Pines II, as some in the region have come to call it.
The tribe currently operates the Pines Convenience Center in L'Anse, where gas is typically 20-30 cents per gallon cheaper than the Marquette area.
Construction of that kind of station in the Marquette area would be bad news for the association, which represents 90 gas stations in the Upper Peninsula employing some 800 workers.
The Marquette market has been a cash cow for years; it's not unusual for AAA Michigan to list Marquette as having the highest gas prices in the entire state of Michigan. A tribe owned and operated facility would put an end to that, of course, so the association will work diligently - starting tonight - to head it off.
With big oil representing three of the top five corporations in the latest Forbes 500 list, it's hard to feel very much sympathy for anyone who represents the oil companies these days. It's worth noting that we don't think the folks who own and operate the local stations are getting rich pumping gas. We believe you have to travel further up the food chain to find those people, nameless faceless sorts who pull strings and manipulate circumstances to enhance their bottom lines.
And who takes it in the neck? The average resident who is doing his or her level best to carve out some sort of life and who depends on gasoline like all of us do. Problem is, gasoline is an unregulated commodity, in terms of pump price.
That fact has opened the door for big oil to gouge. And gouge they have, brazenly, unashamedly. What has been done with prices in the Marquette area borders on the obscene, especially when one considers what's charged in places such as Houghton and Hancock.
Now, this cozy arrangement may get kicked to the curb, if the land is placed in trust. Local station owners will either do what non-tribe operations in the L'Anse and Baraga areas have done, which is to stay within a nickel or so of the Pines to compete, or suffer the consequences.
The Marquette Township Board won't take a position on this issue tonight. We expect trustees will listen politely as both sides have been alloted about 20 minutes to make their cases. However, the township could vote its support or opposition at some later date as a part of the process' public comment period. When that time comes, we urge the board to support KBIC and to do what it can to facilitate construction of the station.
In closing, The Mining Journal would like to offer anyone in the petroleum business a forum to address local residents on why gasoline in Marquette is 20-30 per gallon cents higher that neighboring markets.
We'll arrange the site, handle the pre-session publicity and cover it for news stories, as we suspect other area media will.
This will be their chance to justify themselves and their prices. We look forward to their call.