I spoke to Steve Sheffield of Heritage Propane, a corporate spokesman based out of Massachusetts, a few weeks ago about the proposed acqusition of Heritage by AmeriGas.
Heritage is the parent company of Turner Propane. If the Federal Trade Commission approves the deal, AmeriGas would essentially have a propane monopoly in Mammoth Lakes.
Sheffield says he understands concerns from locals who wonder how a monopoly would affect their gas bills. But like a good corporate spokesman, he talked about “greater efficiencies” that would be realized by a potential deal.
The biggest component of price, he said, are external factors relating to the wholesale price which have nothing to do with local conditions.
Local businessman John Vereuck scoffed at Sheffield’s downplay. “My guess is we can expect a 30 to 40% price hike within a year if this deal goes through. What’s to stop them?”
According to Vereuck, he believes AmeriGas overpaid to purchase Rock Creek Energy in 2009. Rock Creek was the company which built the backbone delivery system in Mammoth and until its acquisition, had charged a fixed rate to the other two companies (Amerigas and Turner) to deliver via its system in order to recoup its lay-in and maintenance costs.
Problem is, said Vereuck, those costs were nebulous and never truly delineated.
“What goes up does not go down,” he explained. “Once a company makes back an investment, does the price ever go down? I’ve never seen it.”
Vereuck believes a monopoly may provide AmeriGas the means to obfuscate like never before.
If the deal goes through, is there any likely competitor on the horizon? I spoke to Eastern Sierra Propane’s Founder and Co-Owner Tom Sigler about that this week. He said he’d recently received a call from Mono County Supervisor Hap Hazard about this very topic, as Hazard is concerned about a potential propane monopoly.
“At this point, nothing seems concrete,” said Sigler. “The government could step in [and prevent the merger], so until we know for sure, we won’t make a decision … I never make plans [based] on speculation.”
Sigler did, however, express some reservations about doing business in Mammoth based upon personal experience. “At one point in time, about two years ago, I called the Town of Mammoth Lakes to get an application for a business license,” he said. “Within 15 seconds, I was told that we [the Town of Mammoth] get a percentage of your income.” That a fee is collected by the Town for every drop of propane sold in Mammoth Lakes.
“I just didn’t like the way that sounded,” said Sigler, who dropped the idea of getting a business license.
MLH foreclosure and government handouts
At the final regular Town Council meeting for 2011 (the Dec. 21 meeting has been canceled), Executive Director of Mammoth Lakes Housing, Pam Hennarty presented the recently updated Mammoth Lakes Housing Needs Assessment. According to Hennarty, the study conducted by RRC Associates, Inc. “reaffirmed what we already knew – there is still a housing need.”
Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Lehman was less than thrilled to hear this outcome and questioned the surveys that were used to gather data for the study.
“I took one of the surveys and the questions seemed to be geared toward what type of housing do we need, not whether or not we need housing,” Lehman said. “You can get any answer that you want if you ask the question in a certain way.
“You don’t have demand presented here,” he continued. “Government can’t afford to continue to pay for everything. We need to let the markets do what they are suppose to do and stop the government handouts.”
As if to prove his point, Hennarty confirmed with The Sheet that MLH is currently in default on one of its two office spaces in the Sherwin Plaza Shopping Center on Old Mammoth Road.
“We received our default letter on Monday,” Hennarty told The Sheet. MLH plans to downsize from the two office spaces into the single office space where they are still current.
“The town cuts hit us hard. We have been trying to negotiate the terms but it hasn’t worked out,” Hennarty continued. “We are hoping to deed it back in lieu of foreclosure, but that’s probably not going to happen.”
Town Council member and MLH Board member Rick Wood agreed with Hennarty. “Budget cuts have real consequences,” he said, referring to the cuts made to MLH when the Town tightened its belt last summer. MLH’s operational revenue comes from the Town. “We couldn’t negotiate a loan modification so we can’t afford to be in the space.”
The man holding the note on the loan, John Vereuck, was not terribly pleased with MLH’s decision. He told The Sheet that MLH stopped paying the note before negotiations for a modification had ever really started.
The updated study is available at www.mammothlakeshousing.com or by calling MLH at 760.934.4740.
Medical Marijuana lessens traffic fatalities
According to the Wall Street Journal, a recent study claims that medical marijuana laws reduce traffic fatalities. The study, “Medical Marijuana Laws, Traffic Fatalities and Alcohol Consumption,” D. Mark Anderson and Daniel I. Rees, Institute for the Study of Labor working paper (November 2011) examines federal data before and after 1996 when the passage of medical marijuana laws began. Today, 15 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. According to the WSJ article, “researchers found a nearly 9% decrease in overall traffic fatalities. (That figure took into account trends in neighboring states.) Virtually the only reason for the decline was a drop in alcohol-related traffic deaths.”
Basically the study concluded that in states where marijuana was legal, people tended to smoke more weed and consume less alcohol. “The authors suggest that pot users may be more aware of their intoxication and correspondingly less reckless, and that using the drug at home, as opposed to bars, might be another factor,” the article concluded.
Longtime local and owner of Mammoth Liquor Spike Todd was life-flighted out of Eastern Sierra Regional Airport in Bishop at 12:50 a.m. Friday, Dec. 2 to the intensive care unit at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nev.
According to posts by his brother, Bob, at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/spiketodd, “Spike went to the doctor Monday and was diagnosed with a sinus infection. He had covered the Bishop football game Friday night and seemed fine. He met his son, David, in Kern Valley Saturday and returned to Mammoth. He told me he had a headache for several days, but it had subsided a bit by Monday.
Still, he was weak and sick and didn’t work last week. Deb [partner] insisted he go the hospital Thursday night, and it was quickly determined he needed critical care. The doctors later said if Deb had not brought Spike in he would not have made it overnight.
The winds were too high to fly out of Mammoth-Yosemite Airport, so he was ambulanced to Bishop, and then flown to Reno.
The cause of his condition is streptococcus pneumoniae (I looked on the fax results about the blood culture).
He was diagnosed with fluid in one lung, along with kidney and liver failure. He suffered a mild heart attack Saturday morning.
A cat scan would help pinpoint the location of the problem in his lung, but he’s not strong enough for that yet.”
Bob’s latest post, dated Dec. 7, stated, “Spike is having a good day, nurses and Dr. Terry say. Fever came down and is being managed; breathing issues are better. He’s still fighting a tough fight, but some optimism today making us all feel good. Great nurses Melissa today and Kelly last night are keeping Spike as comfortable as can be.”
Visit the caringbridge.org website above to keep up to date on Spike’s condition or to send him get-well wishes. If you don’t already have one, you’ll have to sign up for an account, but it only takes about two seconds.