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Residents take gas hike in stride

by Linda Hiller

Keep the moped handy. Better yet, pump up those bicycle tires.

Less than one year ago, gas prices spiked 62 percent in two months, to a high of $1.55 for unleaded regular gas. By early April 1999, three stations in the Carson Valley had gas priced as high as $1.75 for premium gasoline.

Those were the days.

Since the beginning of March, gas prices across the country have rocketed toward $2 per gallon.

Valley prices range from $1.77, $1.87 and $1.97 respectively for unleaded regular, mid-grade and premium at the Silver City RV Park in the north county to $1.89, $1.99 and $2.09 at the Carson Valley Inn 76 station.

The average price for gas in Nevada for mid-grade gasoline in the month of February was $1.25 in 1996; $1.35 in 1997; $1.17 in 1998; and $1.08 in 1999.

Linda Leiss, manager of the Carson Valley Market, owned by Carson Valley Inn, said this year’s price spike has been met by less hostility on the part of gas customers than last year.

“People don’t come in and yell at us so much this time,” she said. “I think it’s because there has been so much press on the subject.”

Leiss said a sign on the counter inside the store says something to the effect that if you were to buy a gallon of Jim Beam, it would cost $52.

“People have liked that humor,” she said. “And we just haven’t had anybody grumble. Our gas sales are down, but our store sales are steady.

– What drivers say. Customers at the Carson Valley Market Monday had a wide range of feelings about the high priced gas they were pumping into their vehicles.

“I blame Nixon,” said 74-year-old A.L. Guerin of Sonora, Calif., who pumped gas into his 1973 Ford camper, which averages around 8 miles per gallon. “He was the crookedest president we’ve had. When he went to OPEC and asked them to cut production, that was the beginning. We need another president like Franklin D. Roosevelt. We’re paying $2.04 in California, and the prices irritate me, but I’m more fortunate than some others, though, because I can afford it.”

At the same station, Johnson Lane resident Donna Thomas filled her 1996 Dodge Stratus. Her son Will, a sophomore at Douglas High School, recently completed a busy season on the junior varsity basketball team, requiring her to spend much time on the road to Reno and other communities to root for her son’s team.

“I haven’t changed my driving habits much,” she said. “I’m so relieved not to be driving so much now that basketball season is over that I’m actually spending less on gas now.”

At the Minden Beacon station, with gas priced at $1.79, $1.89 and $1.99, Terry Nolan, 61, said he was happy to be filling his relatively new V-10 Ford truck with gas that was cheaper than in his home town of Bridgeport, Calif.

“It’s always higher in Bridgeport,” he said. “Right now we’re paying $2.25. It’s always higher than even in Lee Vining, which you’d think would be more isolated.”

– We’re not the highest. Leiss, a former Bridgeport resident, said many of her customers from there will top off their tanks in her Minden store before heading home.

“We used to own an Exxon gas station there,” she said. “Station owners have to pay the price for the gas and then add their markup, like any retail business. Here, we might be 2 cents higher than, say, the Chevron station, and that’s OK. We have to make a certain amount and we do what we have to do. Our customers tell us they come in here because our clerks are so nice, or because it’s so clean.”

Students from the University of Montana, Missoula gassed up at the Minden Arco, marveling at the range in prices they’d seen since embarking on their spring break trip the week before.

“The price in Montana was $1.48 when we left Wednesday, and we saw it as high as $2.30 in California,” said student Brian Patterson, 24.

“We just came from Death Valley, and it was expensive there, too,” said Kendra Nomack, 21.

“I think it’s really ridiculous,” said senior Adam Weber, 24. “But oh, well, we just planned ahead for it.”

“It definitely doubled our costs,” said senior Ragon Brown, 21. “We paid $2 in Death Valley and now we’re headed to San Francisco.”

– State expert. Peter Krueger, state executive with the Nevada Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said this year’s hike is not that different from last year.

“People say the retailers here are making money, but my members are hurting,” he said. “What I’m hearing is that the street demand is down and no one is quite sure why. We think it’s because people are being more cost conscience and shopping around.”

Krueger said most of Nevada’s gas comes from Alaska and is refined in California.

“But OPEC still affects us,” he said. “No one wants to be the lowest by a big margin, because then they’ll just sell out of product. “

Representatives from OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, are scheduled to meet in Vienna March 27 to discuss lifting supply restrictions. Even if that happens, Krueger said it will take time before the prices at the Valley’s pumps decline considerably.

“The street price will be slow to fall because it will be months before the product reaches us,” he said. “Besides, the refineries are in their turn-around time, and will be manufacturing more gasoline and less diesel, and that should increase our supply for summer. It should come down a bit.”

– Taxes add up. Krueger said the local, state and federal taxes, 54 cents per gallon in Washoe County and 50 cents per gallon in Douglas County, account for a large percentage of gas cost to the consumer that no one mentions when prices get high. He also said that, like last year, the decline of the independent gas dealer is the key in high consumer prices.

“It’s just like when a large retail chain comes in, like Home Depot, that puts pressure on the little hardware store,” he said. “It’s always good to buy from the independent stations.”

Eagle in Carson City and Silver City RV in Carson Valley are the only two nearby independents.