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Roth seeks help to rebuild fuel pipeline

 

State Sen. Roger Roth wants to assemble a consortium of forces to find a way to rebuild a deteriorated 110-mile fuel pipeline that formerly served northeast Wisconsin.

"I think we need to fix this pipeline," Roth, R-Appleton, told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. "I think we need to get it reopened for the long-term economic development of northeast Wisconsin. I just don't know yet how to do that. That's what I'm working on."

In March 2016, West Shore Pipe Line Co. of Illinois closed its fuel pipeline between Milwaukee and Green Bay for repairs and inspections. Three months later the company said it was suspending service indefinitely after tests of the decades-old line determined extensive repairs were needed.

It was the only gasoline and diesel pipeline serving northeastern Wisconsin.

In April, state Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel announced that West Shore will not replace the pipeline.

Since the shutdown, fuel suppliers have had to truck fuel from terminals in Milwaukee, Madison, Waupun and Junction City or bring it into Green Bay by barge.

No fuel shortages have been reported, but the additional trucking adds a cost at the pump.

"I can truck it from Milwaukee to the Appleton area for about 5 cents a gallon," said Todd Van Zeeland, president and owner of Van Zeeland Oil Co. of Appleton.

A check Wednesday on GasBuddy.com, a service that tracks gasoline prices, showed gas in Appleton and Neenah cost an average of $2.23 a gallon, compared with $2.15 in Madison and $2.19 in Green Bay and Milwaukee.

The additional trucking also accelerates wear and tear on Wisconsin roads, and it increases the potential for crashes.

"Every mile you drive is an additional risk," Van Zeeland said. "You're hauling gasoline."

Roth said he doesn't want the additional trucking to become the norm.

"While this is working now, even though we're paying a little bit more for gas, I don't think it's a long-term solution," Roth said. "For environmental reasons and economic reasons, I think we have to find a way to get that pipeline rebuilt."

Roth is not alone in his concern. Ron Van Straten of Ledgeview said he can't understand why the shutdown of the pipeline hasn't generated more consternation.

“As a citizen of Brown County, I can’t believe there isn’t more of an uproar about this,” Van Straten said. “It affects everybody in the Valley.”

Roth is in the early stages of gathering information and doesn't know what it would take for West Shore or another company to rebuild the pipeline.

"It seems like we're in the $100 million to $200 million range," he said.

The price is too big for the state to foot the bill, Roth said, so he is looking at federal agencies and industry groups "to find the resources we need to get the project moving."

With the closure of the pipeline, many of the Green Bay terminals, or tank farms, have been depleted of fuel.

“It’s insane to have that real estate in Green Bay empty,” said Bruce Levenhagen, president of Levenhagen Oil Corp. of Neenah. “If something happened strategically — Korea, Russia or something in the Gulf — it would be nice to have that storage filled. It’s like having an empty refrigerator and then all of a sudden the food is cut off.”

Green Bay-based truckers have been forced to travel greater distances to Waupun or other terminals. That has caused overcrowding and long waits at those terminals, which adds to the trucking costs.

Flint Hills Resources embarked on a $20 million expansion of its fuel terminal in Waupun and a $7 million expansion of its facility in Junction City. The expansion at Waupun will more than double the capacity of the terminal when it's completed this fall.

Flint Hills supplies its terminals by pipeline from a refinery in St. Paul, Minnesota.