Energy, climate focus of Third Street office: Superior Watershed Partnership helps people be sufficient
MARQUETTE — Convenience can be a good thing when it comes to energy assistance.
The Superior Watershed Partnership, which maintains a large office in a sizable building at 2 Peter White Drive in Presque Isle Park in Marquette, also operates at what could be considered a less-obvious location, tucked away in a space at 1104 N. Third St.
That’s not necessarily a bad deal for people seeking help with their energy needs.
The SWP is involved in many initiatives and projects, including watershed protection, upper Great Lakes stewardship and habitat protection.
Energy conservation and assistance, however, is another important part of its mission.
To further work in that area, the SWP operates its Energy and Climate Office along Third Street.
Among the employees working out of that office are Tonya Swenor, program manager for the Michigan Energy Assistance Program, and Kasey McNeally, MEAP assistant manager.
Swenor said MEAP assists low-income households with their energy bills to help them with self-sufficiency, among other initiatives.
The office provides many services and is a place where clients can apply for direct assistance.
“We work pretty closely with most of the utilities to provide affordable payment plans, which is sort of a longer-term focus on not just assisting with their bills but getting them on track to be regularly paying bills and be more self-sufficient in that area,” McNeally said.
The office also conducts energy education and money management workshops, McNeally noted, as well as its Energy Conservation Corps.
“They go into homes and they do home energy scores to evaluate a home’s energy efficiency and needs,” she said. Those scores then are updated so homeowners or renters can see how the steps they took have improved their energy conservation.
McNeally said the ECC performs some weatherization, such as insulation, and a select number of solar installations. It also makes recommendations for the homeowners, plus it makes referrals to work with the utilities to get additional services through their energy waste-reduction programs.
Swenor said that the SWP Energy and Climate Office was created almost three years ago to work on the MEAP and other grants related to energy efficiency. SWP has been at the Third Street location since November, having moved from Lakeview Arena.
Because of COVID-19 and restrictions, the Energy and Climate Office staff — deemed to be essential workers — were too close to each other at Lakeview, Swenor said.
They then moved to Third Street where an air infiltration system was installed so employees could work there safely.
“It’s really nice, and it’s easy for the customers to access us,” Swenor said. “They want to come in.”
SWP has a staff of 13 in the Energy and Climate Office, which Swenor said helped necessitate the move from Lakeview since its programs also are growing.
Swenor said the Third Street office has a convenience factor regarding Marq-Tran.
“We’re on the bus line, so that’s nice too for clients that can come in,” said Swenor, who pointed out that for the last 18 months, office staff had been working remotely to serve the Upper Peninsula.
“Clients call us from all over the U.P.,” she said. “We help all 15 counties, and we help about 2,000 families for a year. They call us and we do everything by the phone, which is not something we’re typically allowed to do.”
However, because staff wants people to be safe, the office will continue to operate this way until the end of September.
McNeally said the location works well for another reason.
“We do have a decent number of clients that we work with who for whatever reason don’t have great internet access, and if they have to do any of their paperwork or requirements by mail, it really slows down the process, especially if they’re in crisis and they’re having a shut-off pending,” she said.
“So, at least for people in Marquette County or close by, being right downtown here is a really easy way. We have a drop box outside they can drop stuff in.
“Just since last month, we’ve been allowed to open our doors to the public, and so they can come in and receive assistance in person or utilize one of our computers here to do their requirements for either DHHS (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) or our program.”
Swenor said if people can’t use a computer, staff will help them with applications.
All income verifications, she pointed out, are performed by the MDHHS.
The SWP Energy and Climate Office is an MDHHS “navigator” and access partner that walks people through the process, which McNeally acknowledged can be “overwhelming” at times.
For more information on the SWP, visit superiorwatersheds.org.
Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.