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Gas prices soar, fuel anxiety

Consumers may see delayed effect on overall prices in local stores

September 7, 2005

Gas prices jumped every day last week after eight Gulf Coast refineries were taken off-line by Hurricane Katrina.

Motorists often grew angry when pulling up to the pump and seeing the price of regular fuel teetering near $3 per gallon — or even higher at some stations.

“One person who found out he was paying $3 per gallon got mad and pulled the nozzle out of his car and threw it on the ground,” said Amber Trosper, cashier at the West Cascade Avenue Chevron.

On Friday, Olga Chavarria of Hood River said the high cost of filling her Toyota Tundra pickup was keeping the family home for Labor Day.

“It’s a lot of money and we’re not getting raises in our jobs to cover it,” she said.

Cascade Locks resident Nathan Fox was considering a drive to the Oregon Coast for the last holiday of summer — but not in his Jeep.

“I try to plan my travel a little bit better. I wouldn’t say the gas prices have changed everything, but it’s just made us a little bit more conscious of how we do things,” he said.

With gas prices up more than 30 percent in the aftermath of Katrina, Labor Day travel was down nationally. According to the American Petroleum Institute, prior to the devastating storm, the Gulf Coast refineries were producing 1.4 million barrels of oil each day, the equivalent to imports from Saudi Arabia. About 80 percent of that production was halted abruptly last week and prices climbed to more than $5 per gallon in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, the areas hardest-hit by the hurricane.

However, prices stabilized this weekend as the United States tapped its emergency oil reserves and foreign nations placed crude oil on the market. As of Tuesday, Oregon had one of the lower prices in the country — an average of $2.88 per gallon — but the cost of a full tank is still significantly higher than one year ago.

And that has already brought a slight increase in food prices and shipping costs. This week, FedEx raised its overnight delivery fee by 13 percent, DHL by 15 percent and United Parcel Service (UPS) by 9 percent. Both FedEx and DHL will also be charging 3 percent more for ground shipping and UPS and additional 2.5 percent.

“We’re not seeing drastic increases in food prices right now but, as this goes on, we’ll probably see more changes,” said Mike Myhre, Rosauers’ general manager.

He said, in the last few months, a new trend has developed among shoppers. They are coming into the Heights store less often, but buying more food at one time.

“I think people are consolidating their trips more now than ever before,” said Myhre.

Richard and Carol Thornton of Mosier are senior citizens on a fixed income.

They are trying to weather the high gasoline prices by taking care of their household business at one time.

“We are forced to go (errands) on the first of the month and do all that we can do. We may not be able to go to the store in the middle of the week, or go to church on Sundays.

We can’t go visit Shawn (son) in Rosalia, Wash., like we were planning to,” said Carol.

Elwood Hutson, a Hood River senior, agrees with the Thorntons that greater efficiency is the best way to weather the current economic storm.

“You’re just going to need to combine your trips to run all of your errands at one time and don’t travel as far,” he said.

Jean Schultz of Hood River has cut back on buying nonessential grocery items to absorb the slightly higher cost of many food items. She needs to free up money to pay for prescription drugs that are necessary to maintain her health.

“Gas prices are affecting everyone; they have to cut down on buying other things,” she said.

Cherry Trautwein, a sales associate at Cliff Smith Motors in Hood River, said more people are dropping in to check out fuel-efficient cars.

However, she said there has been no movement among consumers yet to trade in their bigger vehicles.

“What we’re getting is a tremendous amount of phone calls from people not wanting to downsize, but wanting to buy something for a few thousand dollars to use for commuting,” said Trautwein.

She does predict that if prices continue to climb, people will be “scrambling” to buy smaller cars — and there are plenty of choices available.

Jorge Lujano, sales associate for Hood River Chrysler Dodge Jeep, said people have also been checking out diesel-engine vehicles because they get better mileage.

“Lots of people want to trade in their gas truck for diesel.

They are also asking what our most efficient car is while they are here,” said Lujano.

Trosper said industry speculation is that gasoline prices will rise to $3.50-$3.75 per gallon in Oregon within the next few months.

She said predictions are that it will be “a while” before the cost of petroleum comes back down, and even then it is likely to be higher than in the past.

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