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opinion Cloquet, 55720
Cloquet Minnesota 122 Avenue C 55720

These are strange and unusual times. The snowdrifts keep piling up, the temperature keeps dropping and the prices of heating fuel are basically out the roof. And all this, it seems, comes at a time when we can least afford it.

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We’ve all heard the horror stories — half a fill of fuel oil at $500, a tank of propane at nearly $1,000, electric companies shutting off the heat on their dual fuel customers in the midst of the coldest days of winter, and the cost of firewood soaring to unparalleled heights.

It’s kind of ironic, because not all that long ago our greatest headache was the rising price of gas at the pumps….

With no real relief from this winter’s cold weather in sight, it's gone beyond something we just like to complain about. Good folks are having to cut into their life’s savings just to heat their houses, and then often only at minimal levels in order to conserve fuel.

The state recently announced that its propane reserves have fallen to dangerously low levels. Politicians have jumped on the bandwagon to try to turn things around before it’s too late. Efforts are underway to assist low income families cover the cost of heating fuel, and those are to be applauded.

The Governor has also announced he will try to make more public places available to those who are displaced from their homes due to lack of heat. But think about it — there’s a much greater price that may have to be paid if that happens. If homeowners can’t afford to keep their houses heated, or if the fuel supply should fall short before the end of this overly long winter, those houses stand to suffer staggering losses. An unheated house won’t last long in this cold. Pipes will freeze and burst, and anything in the house that is perishable or otherwise vulnerable will soon be ruined.

And now, the latest concern — rumors that some fuel companies are allegedly taking advantage of the crisis and artificially inflating fuel prices to customers who rent tanks from them and are forced contractually to buy their fuel through that company.

Let’s hope none of these fears become reality. Let’s back our state’s efforts at breaking down the roadblocks to fuel accessibility and support efforts to prevent price gouging at a time when such a practice could virtually cripple many. And if you’re not the type to lobby politicians or take a public stand, please keep an eye on your neighbors and make certain they’re doing OK. A cozy home and a warm bed aren’t guaranteed to anyone, but we can certainly do our best to take care of one another. It’s the way our ancestors faced bitter winters on the plains, and it’s the way we Minnesotans will once again make it through a bitter winter.

Wendy Johnson

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