ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The emergency management director said Friday that Minnesota is prepared to open warming shelters if propane supply problems continue in large portions of the country and cold weather persists in the state.
"We have identified shelters in a number of communities," said Kris Eide, Minnesota's director of homeland security and emergency management. Many residents of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's reservation in the Dakotas have already been forced into public shelters because of the propane shortage.
Minnesota initiated a hotline on Thursday for residents who are worried about running out of propane or have other questions about the situation. The hotline took more than 80 calls in its first day.
Much of the Northeast and Midwest has seen propane prices skyrocket in recent weeks, prompting state officials to look for ways to alleviate supply problems and investigate reports of price gouging. Minnesota's Executive Council, chaired by Gov. Mark Dayton, met Friday and extended the governor's emergency declaration related to the propane shortage, authorizing state agencies to take a number of steps in response.
"We are starting to hear that people are out in certain places" in the state, state Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman told the Executive Council. "Prices are skyrocketing ... it's going to be touch and go for at least a few weeks, with forecasts for continued below-zero weather. The supply issues in Minnesota and nationally are not trending in a positive direction."
Rothman said propane was running about $6.77 a gallon by the end of this week, compared to $1.50 to $1.70 at this time last year. On Thursday, Minnesota received an additional $15.8 million in federal energy assistance funds; the state Commerce Department recently increased crisis benefits from $500 to $1,000 for households that heat with propane or heating oil. Minnesota officials are calling on the federal government to approve more funding for energy assistance.
Dayton joined in a conference call Thursday between several Midwestern governors and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who told his fellow governors he would extend a waiver of state trucking rules that had been slowing movement of propane from Texas to points north.
An estimated 250,000 Minnesota households use propane to heat their homes, mostly in rural areas.
The number for the state's propane hotline is 651-297-1304 or 800-657-3504.