Propane crisis on Dakotas reservation eases
By Blake Nicholson
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A propane crisis on the Standing Rock Reservation in the Dakotas is easing thanks to warmer weather and a drop in the price of the fuel, as well as federal assistance and a charitable donation, the tribe's leader said.
"We've been able to get to everyone who needed propane," Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II said Monday. "I think (the situation) is stabilizing."
As many as 5,000 homes on the reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border rely on propane for heat. But as residents struggled to afford higher propane prices tied to a nationwide shortage, in particular during the subzero Arctic air that blanketed the region in late January, a serious crisis arose. Many couldn't afford the fuel, scarce following supply disruptions, a late and wet harvest, and cold weather across the U.S.
Authorities are investigating whether the cold contributed to the death of 61-year-old Debbie Dogskin, whose body was found Feb. 4 in a mobile home with no propane.
Archambault said about 1,100 homes have been helped through a $1.7 million grant from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Some 500 reservation residents who didn't qualify under the federal program were assisted through a $500,000 donation from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux tribe in Minnesota, he said.
Residential propane prices have fallen from about $4 a gallon in late January to $3.76 a gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That is still higher than the $3.50 mark at which Archambault estimates the price starts becoming unaffordable for many reservation residents, and the tribe plans to continue to seek emergency funding from the federal government to ensure residents make it through the rest of the winter.
"We're still looking out for any individuals who don't have the means to put as much heating fuel into their tanks as they need," Archambault said.
Warm weather is helping the situation, the chairman said. Daytime temperatures in recent days have been in the 20s and 30s, much warmer than the subzero Arctic air that blanketed the region last month.
Archambault and North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple talked about the propane situation late last week at a meeting in Fort Yates.
Archambault and Jerod Tufte, Dalrymple's attorney, said the tribe did not ask for state help because the federal government funds LIHEAP for the tribe and the state separately. Dalrymple earlier directed the state Department of Human Services to help the tribe assess its potential need for more federal LIHEAP aid, spokesman Jeff Zent said.
Meanwhile, an effort to raise $50,000 to fund a pilot project to outfit 20 reservation homes with heat stoves that burn pellets made from natural materials is nearing its goal. As of late Tuesday morning, more than 1,000 people had contributed more than $44,000 to "Heating the Rez," promoted via www.indiegogo.com .
Donations from $5 to $1,000 have arrived from a dozen different countries, said attorney and American Indian activist Chase Iron Eyes, who is spearheading the effort.
"People want to help. They want something good to happen in light of Debbie Dogskin's death," Iron Eyes said. "A renewable solution like this, it's a win-win. It gets us out of propane and promotes renewables."