Members of Michigan’s Keweenaw Bay Indian Community looking to build a gas station near their reservation have landed in the middle of a public drama over apparently inflated gas prices.
Competitors so vehemently oppose the Tribe’s development plans that they have removed issues of the local newspaper, The Mining Journal, containing an editorial endorsing the project from their stands.
The conflict all started when the Keweenaw Bay community, part of the Lake Superior Band of Chippewa Indians, began preparing a trust application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs so they might build a state tax-free gas station in the town of Marquette, on the Lake Superior side of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The tribe already runs a gas station and convenience store in nearby L’Anse, where gas is generally cheaper than in the Marquette area by 20-30 cents per gallon.
“The gas station will provide jobs for members of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and offer a low-cost alternative to the high gas prices in Marquette County to tribal members who live there, said Keweenaw Bay Indian Community President Warren Swartz, adding that the lower prices would also benefit non-tribal residents of the area. “The revenue generated is used to support services to tribal members; many of these services would be provided through state or federal funding if tribal funds are not generated through the gas station.”
On June 5, The Mining Journal, ran an editorial supporting the project.
“...[G]asoline is an unregulated commodity, in terms of pump price,” the editorial pointed out. “That fact has opened the door for big oil to gouge. And gouge they have, brazenly, unashamedly. What has been done with prices in the Marquette area borders on the obscene, especially when one considers what’s charged in places such as Houghton and Hancock. Now, this cozy arrangement may get kicked to the curb, if the land (for the KBIC gas station) is placed in trust.”
AAA Michigan reports that gas prices in the Marquette area are almost always higher than the state average.
The editorial incited an uproar. Gas stations in the neighboring communities of Marquette, Ishpeming, Gwinn, Sands Township and L’Anse pulled The Mining Journal from their stores, along with Krist Oil, which operates 17 Citgo gas stations across the Upper Peninsula.
The dialogue got especially heated when Krist Oil Vice President Krist Atanasoff made a vicious verbal attack on the Keweenaw Bay community.
“We’re not going to do business with your company anymore because all you can say is bad things about us,” Atanasoff told a reporter from The Mining Journal, who promptly quoted him. “You’re supporting these Indians. They’re thieves, they’re convicted felons and they’re tax evaders.”
Atanasoff has since backpedaled, saying he meant his slurs to apply to just one individual with whom he’d had dealings.
Keeweenaw tribal members say they’re taking his bad behavior in stride.
“The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community chooses to rise above the attacks made upon the Community from the small group of opponents to the gas station,” Swartz wrote in an email. “The leadership of KBIC will continue to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with the residents and elected officials of Marquette County in a positive and respectful manner.”