By Beth Christian Broschart
ELKINS - Local officials said residents who use liquid propane for heating may have trouble locating the fuel during this winter's rugged weather, but road salt, another vital material at this time of year, is not in short supply.
Officials at Cuptane L.P, a company that's done business in Elkins for more than 70 years, said propane is becoming difficult to find for them, as well.
"There is a shortage of propane in more than 30 states," owner Harry Cupp said Monday. "We've had three loads delivered to us in the past two weeks. We should have received eight loads."
Cupp said he deals with a very reliable broker, but has been having trouble obtaining enough propane to meet the demand.
"I would advise folks to try to conserve propane," he said. "Basically, we only have two more months of bad weather left. I think the supply of propane will loosen up in the summer."
Cupp said this shortage is the worst he has seen in more than 20 years, and has driven prices up.
"Right now, propane is about $4 per gallon, compared to $2.60 to $2.80 before the shortage started," he said.
Readers of The Inter-Mountain have expressed both frustration with trying to find propane and concern over the price.
Nancy Anne Loudin, who lives in Belington, said she made sure both her propane tanks were full before the cold set in.
"The price was up about 25 percent from this time last year. My son, who lives in Lost Creek, said his tank is empty and he is having trouble getting propane delivered."
Sandy Cassidy of Parsons said she has been waiting more than two weeks for delivery.
"However, I was told the reason is they don't have a truck for delivery. The price last year was $2.14 per gallon," Cassidy said. "The last quoted price I received was $2.75 per gallon."
Sandy Young of Beverly said she had her propane tank filled in October from Air Gas.
"The price was a little higher than last year, but didn't have any wait getting it," she said.
The National Propane Gas Association issued a statement Jan. 22 saying it was working at all levels to seek relief from the current supply, distribution and infrastructure problems facing American propane customers.
The statement said to allow for expedited delivery of propane, NPGA is working with stakeholders throughout the industry to seek relief from the current situation. Presently, the U.S. Department of Transportation has issued a regional order for the Midwestern, Eastern and Southern regions which will allow transporters to move propane more freely throughout the most affected regions. The rare regional orders apply to 10 Midwest, 14 Eastern and nine Southern states.
Mollie O'Dell, a media representative for NPGA, confirmed Monday that West Virginia is one of the Eastern states listed in the order.
"West Virginia is experiencing a propane shortage," O'Dell said.
Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, said Monday she has received phone calls from residents concerned over the propane situation.
"There is a big concern that local providers do not have enough propane to meet the needs, and folks are having trouble getting propane," Campbell said. "I called some local providers and they said they are only receiving about half the deliveries they normally have.
"To help the situation, they are encouraging folks to take delivery of 200 or 300 gallons rather than filling their tanks so there is enough for everyone to have propane to last through the cold snap and into the spring."
Campbell said she called Lynn Phillips from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office and Randolph County Commissioner Mike Taylor to let them know about local concern. Both said they would look into the propane shortage situation.
"I just don't want to wait until there is a crisis to take action," Campbell said.
Another issue folks have been talking about is a possible shortage of road salt. J.F. Allen Manager Steve Sherrard said the company is on top of the demand of salt and, so far, there is no crisis or reason for concern.
"The Elkins facility is still hauling in salt as we speak," Sherrard said. "Usage of road salt is way up, but mostly in the Northeast."
Sherrard added that the West Virginia Department of Highways has only used about half of the amount they asked for, and that is on-track with past years.
"We seem to be right in the ballpark with usage," Sherrard said.
Sherrard said if more salt is needed, J.F. Allen has the ability to call and have more road salt diverted to the Elkins storage facility.
Travis Ray, the DOH District 8 maintenance engineer, confirmed Sherrard's assessment.
"I went through estimates Monday morning, and we have used 55 percent of the amount of a seven-year average of salt usage," Ray said. "We are 55 to 60 percent of the way through the winter, so we are right on track."
Ray said District 8 serves Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph and Tucker counties. He said with temperatures falling this week, salt brine will not be used on the roads.
"The brine is less effective in temperatures below 15 degrees, so we are not using it," Ray said. "We are also using abrasives on the road like limestone aggregate to provide better traction.
"We are only mixing in salt when the temperatures will rise above 15 degrees," Ray said.