Paying big at the pumps

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Joe Sharp is upset about paying $2.25 per gallon as he fills his tank at an Ironton gas station, but he just doesn't see any way around it.

"If you've got to work you've got to pay the prices," Sharp said. "I drive my brother back and forth to work, too. I wish they'd lower these prices though, that'd be nice. I think they need to."

Gas prices in the area increased by 3 cents last week, to set a record new high for the average price of a gallon of unleaded, self-serve gasoline, according to AAA. The average of $2.083 per gallon was a 2-cent jump over the previous record, $2.063 set on May 25, 2004.

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The cost of gasoline this year was estimated to average 8.5 cents per mile driven or $1,285 per year in a recent AAA study, as compared to 6.5 cents per mile, $975 last year.

Many industry analysts believe the worst is yet to come, as the traditional spring gas hike is just beginning and gas prices were averaging $57 per barrel yesterday, as compared with $34 at this same time last year.

Weathering the storm

Though Gene Bragg admits that food sales are a larger part of his business than gas, the owner of Bragg Inc. in Ironton said that he doesn't believe his sales have been negatively affected by the price hike.

"They're going to buy it because people have to roll, everything still has to roll," Bragg said. "I haven't seen a drop in (gas sales)."

Though his personal sales aren't affected, the gas hike has cost Bragg's business indirectly, with several of those who make food or gas deliveries to his store tacking on a fuel charge in addition to what he already pays for their services.

"A lot of people who deliver here add a fuel surcharge on, a lot of your wholesale companies are adding on a fuel surcharge," Bragg said. "Right on top of everything, it's right on the invoice, an extra $4 or $5 dollars. I think when gas went over $1.50 is when they started doing it."

The problem is further aggravated by the close proximity of Ashland, Ky., and Huntington, W.Va., who occasionally have gas prices lower than those of Lawrence County. This can make it tempting for motorists to see if the gas is truly greener on the other side of the river.

"A lot of them do, and a lot of them have been doing it for a long time," Bragg said. "Even when gas was cheaper they were still driving over there to save a nickel a gallon."

Those who cross the river for their fuel may be in for a rude awakening, as the Huntington-Ashland area also hit record highs today at around $2.20 per gallon, according to AAA.

A silver lining

Despite the damage to Tri-State wallets caused by recent price increases,

some good news may be on the horizon. Saudi Arabia recently promised to increase production by 500,000 barrels per day, and another equal jump could be in the works.

In addition, yesterday saw an upswing in the value of the dollar, on the belief that the U.S. will raise interest rates today. That could help to ease gas prices, and allow Sharp and his fellow county residents to pay a little less at the pump.