A nor’easter bringing more than a foot of snow, high winds and even colder temperatures to many parts of Maine is posing serious challenges for community agencies trying to connect fuel suppliers with low-income clients.
Driver shortages, competing demands from regular customers and a tight schedule before the advancing storm mean that some clients will not receive their fuel deliveries in time.
Inside her compact office at Downeast Community Partners, Lee Hardison dials up another oil vendor as she tries to set up a delivery for one of her agency’s clients who is in a difficult situation.
“I think she’s out and her furnace has quit because she’s saying that her furnace is not working — I don’t know if the furnace has died, I don’t know if it gelled, I don’t know what is going on,” she says.
Hardison’s agency, like other community action programs in the state, is dealing with a number of emergency heating requests that have come in after a long holiday weekend and major storm slated to arrive in force within 24 hours.
For everyone involved in the process, Hardison says anxiety levels are high.
“Definitely there’s stress, on every level — it’s not just our clients that are stressed trying to do this,” she says. “The vendors are desperately stressed trying to make sure that their customers are getting the products they need in time, and it’s stress on us as well because we want to make sure that we serve everybody that has a request. We can’t all do that.”
Hardison says her office is fielding somewhere between 150 and 200 calls daily from clients whose normal fuel reserves have been drastically depleted by the prolonged period of cold weather. It’s particularly hard on older clients, she says, who worry that they will run out of fuel before a delivery can be made.
She says that’s a legitimate concern.
“We do have some vendors who have scheduled out or are having to schedule out a week in advance because they have so many requests piling in on them, and there’s only so many people that can make the delivery, so many drivers,” she says. “They can only make so many in the course of a day, so to get them all isn’t always going to happen.”
“Seems like it just came on all of a sudden, I have to say, and within this past week there’s been so many vendors right now that are saying we just can’t get to these deliveries right now,” says Jennifer Giosia with Penquis CAP in Bangor.
Giosia says frigid temperatures throughout the region have complicated the delivery schedules of many of her fuel vendors, who are trying to balance the increased demands from energy assistance agencies against the those of regular customers. She says many oil companies have regular delivery routes and schedules in place and are unable to respond to emergency requests that could involve a single delivery dozens of miles away.
“For them to go out and make any emergency deliveries, that’s added stops for them which they hadn’t planned on, and they’re just unable to do it. And also there is a shortage, it seems like, at some of the oil companies to deliver the fuel,” she says. “So we are being told — even for when we call in for emergency assistance for some of the households — is that right now, they’re not going to be able to get to them until Monday.”
Emergency fuel requests have also increased in northern Maine, according to the Aroostook County Action Program in Presque Isle.
All of the agencies are encouraging those who are potentially facing an empty tank to seek temporary shelter with family members or community shelters until their requests can be processed.