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Upper Peninsula residents are not in need of Line 5

Recently I was listening to the public comments being offered to the Michigan Dept. of EGLE regarding the proposed Line 5 tunnel project in the Straits of Mackinac.

I was not planning on offering my own public comment until I heard a Dickinson County Commissioner comment that regurgitated refrain that is common of our U.P. “leaders.” Their statements are straight from the Enbridge public relations subterfuge. Enbridge is a foreign company that stands to profit immensely from the continuation of Line 5, tunnel or not.

The misinformed refrain goes something like this: “We need Line 5 and this tunnel because many U.P. residents rely on propane for cooking and winter heat. If Line 5 is discontinued propane prices will skyrocket and many residents will not be able to pay for it. Without it U.P. residents will be in danger of losing their only source of winter heat. Many U.P. residents are elderly and live in fixed incomes.”

Well, I am a senior citizen living on a fixed income. I live in Big Bay and have a camp in Grand Marais. I rely solely upon propane for cooking and heating. Unlike our “leaders” I actually did my homework rather than taking the easy way out by repeating a refrain that may not be true.

I contacted the propane suppliers for both residences. Their responses were remarkably similar. Both companies have responded to market conditions, especially since the polar vortex of 2014. They have added storage and have been contracting to receive their supplies from a differing number of sources including Kinross, Lansing, and various locations in Wisconsin among others.

They do receive some supplies from the Rapid River fractionator that is supplied by Line 5, but it is nothing they depend upon. I was assured by both company representatives that a disruption of propane from Line 5, whether by accident, policy/political decisions, or market disruptions would not affect my propane supply in a negative way. Prices could rise a ‘penny or two on the dollar, but nothing severe. My current propane bill reflects no dramatic change that I would notice. These pricing facts were confirmed by Plains Midstream, a Canadian company that actually owns the oil, along with the Rapid River fractionator and Kinross storage facility.

I mentioned this information to a friend from the Copper Country. She took it upon herself to ask the same questions of her propane supplier and received the same answers. She then called a second supplier to confirm consistency of fact and received the same answer.

Our propane suppliers in the U.P. have adapted to market conditions and made the necessary adjustments to ensure reliable service and delivery of propane to their customers. I find it insulting that our “leaders” disparage our small business U.P. propane suppliers by continuing this false narrative. Our propane suppliers understand the needs of their customers and the vagaries of the propane market and have responded in a responsible manner. Our “leaders” need to get the facts and start representing in the best interest of the U.P. again instead of a foreign company with a pot of money for glossy full page newspaper ads.

Some added information came from one supplier I contacted and was confirmed by the second supplier. The Rapid River facility was shut down for an inordinate amount of time this summer, much longer than the normal spring maintenance shutdown. When questioned on this bit of information I had come across, I was told by one supplier the product had been bought up by different entities to ship to the eastern coast of Canada for export to overseas markets (mostly Asian). This is where Enbridge gets it profit, not from U.P. propane. The U.P. and Michigan is just a short cut to the maritime provinces of Canada. Enbridge has also diversified into renewables in major way. They understand market economies. Perhaps our “leaders,” many of whom profess belief in the free market system, could use a refresher course.

I began this letter sometime after the county commissioner’s comments. As I finish it, Gov. Whitmer has announced orders to shut down the portion of Line 5 that currently is active in the Straits of Mackinac. I can already hear the uninformed howls. We need leaders who actually lead, not follow, especially following a foreign company who could give a hoot about U.P. propane users.

Do not take my word for it though, call your propane dealer. How hard is that?

Editor’s note: Gene Champagne is a resident of the Big Bay area.

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