Residents stopping by their favorite Citgo in the Upper Peninsula to pick up The Mining Journal and perhaps a donut and coffee have noticed something unusual in the past day or so. They can still purchase the snacks and joe, but not the newspaper. It's the same at several other gas station/convenience stores in the area, including the Crossroads, Kountry Korners, the Modeltown Express and three Oasis gas stations.
Why? Because The Mining Journal had the temerity to state publicly what the entire central Upper Peninsula has been saying privately for years: Gasoline in the greater Marquette area is overpriced when compared to other U.P. locations and has been for a very long time. The offending material was in a June 5 editorial, the day of a Marquette Township Board meeting where a Keweenaw Bay Indian Community plan to construct a tax-free gas station at the location of the former Los Tres Amigos Restaurant, was discussed.
Speaking in opposition at the meeting to the new KBIC station was a representative of the Upper Peninsula Petroleum Association, which represents a number of U.P. gas stations.
A tax-free station sells gas that's cheaper by as much as 20 to 30 cents per gallon than the usual pump charge. Just ask the residents in the L'Anse and Baraga area, and indeed the Copper Country. They've been filling up at the KBIC owned and operated Pines Convenience Center for years. In the June 5 opinion piece, The Mining Journal urged the township board to support station construction, as a part of a future land trust process between KBIC and the federal government.
None of this, of course, sat too well with the people that distribute gas in the Marquette area. These are folks who are used to getting their way with few questions asked. The corporation that owns the 17 Citgos in the U.P. - Krist Oil based in Iron River - and the other operators, pulled Journal racks this week in retaliation, even though the editorial clearly held harmless local owners for gas prices that have been, according to AAA of Michigan, higher than the state average more than 80 percent of the time in the past year.
On Wednesday, The Mining Journal was told by Krist Oil Vice President Krist Atanasoff for a story on today's front page: "We're not going to do business with your company anymore because all you can say is bad things about us. You're supporting these Indians. They're thieves, they're convicted felons and they're tax evaders."
When The Mining Journal reporter assigned to the story confirmed that notes on the telephone interview were being taken, Krist Oil President Stan Atanasoff interjected: "End of conversation" and promptly hung up.
The Crossroads and Kountry Korner owner Scott Nyquist also complained about the June 5 editorial in today's front page story. "Why don't they put the price of jewelry or furniture on the front page of The Mining Journal instead of gas prices all the time, start picking on other gougers? We're not gougers in our industry. If The Mining Journal feels they can say what they want without doing their homework, I can say what I want too, but the facts will be true."
UPPA President Brooke Ferns argued at the June 5 township board meeting, among other things, that the Marquette Area Public Schools could loose as much as $4.4 million annually, if a tax-free station in Marquette Township opens. That's something MAPS officials have flatly denied as untrue.
For the record, let's get something straight. The Mining Journal takes its community watchdog role seriously will not be bullied or browbeaten into submission by these people. If they choose to not sell The Mining Journal, that's their business. Judging by the overwhelming feedback we've seen, area residents are weary of paying inflated gas prices and would welcome the kind of relief a tax-free station would bring. Those are the people we side with.
We will repeat an offer we made in the June 5 editorial. The Mining Journal invites anyone from the UPPA, Krist Oil or anyone to explain why gas prices are so high in the Marquette area.
We'll provide the space and publicity. We are still waiting for their call.