Gas prices still on rise

Unleaded gas is pretty much $3 a gallon as people fill up their vehicles Thursday at the Town & Country at the corner of Llano Estacado Boulevard and Prince Street. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Tonya Garner: CNJ staff writer

In the wake of the recent level-4 hurricane that wrecked local offshore gasoline production and refining operations, concerns about supply shortage and protests against soaring prices are increasing, even as local officials assure the public that everything is under control.

Even with gas prices creeping to an-unheard-of $3 per gallon, many local drivers are unwilling to give up their vehicles.

“What else can I do?” said Jason Saiz, 22, who works at the municipal golf course and drives a truck. “I’ve been trying to limit how much I drive. My fiancé has a Honda Civic, if we go anywhere we take her car to save on gas. What else can I do but keep buying gas? People depend on cars too much. We’ll just keep on buying gas, I’m sure.”

Aside from increasingly limited personal mobility, shopping is likely to get as frustrating as transportation bogs down.

“The cost of business is going up every day, this can only hurt the consumers,” said Clovis Pepsi sales manager Mike Hilburn, 44. “The fuel prices have risen so sharply that we’re having problems getting products into Clovis from our sourcing location in Denver. We’ll have to change some of the ways we are doing business, because it’s not working right now. The prices have risen overnight on us, so we’re in a scramble right now, we don’t know what we are going to do.

“I’ve certainly changed my driving habits. I’m not going anywhere that I don’t need to go. There is probably going to be more sitting at home. The way I see it, fuel is a luxury right now. My wife drives an economy vehicle, and we talked about switching, based on the daily amount she drives compared to how much I drive daily.”

“I have a decent income, I feel for the people who have a more limited income. I don’t know what they are going to do,” Hilburn added.

However, even the fortunate are feeling the crunch.

Derren Berton, for instance, drives a Hummer and gets nine miles per gallon: “I can’t drive the Hummer much. I drive 60 miles a day back and forth to work, so I have to car pool now. Everyone is going to have to car pool. (If prices stay up) I just won’t drive my Hummer. I have an Altima, and that gets better mileage.”

Despite the spreading sense of helplessness and anxiety, area officials are assuring Clovis residents that emergency services throughout Curry County will remain normal.

Sgt. Jim Schoeffel, public information officer for the Clovis Police Department, said business will continue normally for his department: “Our staffing will remain the same; the number of patrol cars will remain the same,” Schoeffel said.

Schoeffel reported 12 “gas skips” in the last two days, in which individuals drive off without paying for gasoline. Schoeffel said the incidents started about a month ago.

“This is basically shoplifting,” Schoeffel said. “It can result in a physical arrest or a ticket depending upon the officer’s discretion.”

Chief Ray Westerman of the Clovis Fire Department said although the fire department does operate on a budget, the price of gas will have to reach exorbitant heights to affect firefighting service.

Westerman stressed the fire department currently has plenty of funding to operate normally. “We will make budget maneuvers to continue providing emergency services to the county,” he said.

The statewide average price and record of a gallon of unleaded regular reached $2.69 early Wednesday, up two cents from the previous day, New Mexico’s AAA sales data revealed.

Albuquerque’s new record average is $2.70 per gallon, up three cents from Tuesday. Las Cruces saw its record average rise from $2.57 to $2.60 overnight although in Santa Fe, average price slipped less than a cent from $2.80 to $2.79. These are average prices, said AAA spokesperson Jeannie Chavez: actual pump prices very widely.

Portales businessman Peyton Black, 65, drives a Harley but remains upbeat.

“I own a cleaners in Portales. I drive there everyday so I really can’t cut back.

“I have some oil interests down in Texas, so I’m waiting on a check from that, it may be real good.”

Gov. Bill Richardson and Attorney General Patricia Madrid said Thursday they will work to craft a law that will give the state authority to punish companies found guilty of gouging at the pump in the aftermath of a disaster. Richardson and Madrid are expected to meet with legislative leaders next week.

“I stand ready to prosecute anyone who would take unfair advantage of consumers because of a national emergency or natural disaster,” Madrid said. “But the Legislature must provide me the tools to do it.”

Richardson said nobody should profit from tragedy.