Gas may hit $2 per gallon this summer

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— Local gasoline prices, already 20 to 25 cents a gallon higher than those in the Denver area, continue to rise and could reach $2 per gallon by summer, according to AAA and local gas station owners.

"It's very likely we'll see prices as high as $2 a gallon by the time summer's rolled around," said Jim Burrow, Sinclair station owner and Mount Werner Total Station manager. "We're typically 20-25 cents above average (for the metro area). We're already near $1.70 a gallon."

AAA spokeswoman Mary Greer said that although Department of Energy officials feel confident that prices in most markets will not hit $2 a gallon, Steamboat may be an exception.

Prices jumped 6.2 cents this week to a state average of $1.46 per gallon of unleaded gasoline, compared to the national average of $1.51, Greer said, adding: "Higher prices will probably continue to kick in again once summer tourism arrives."

Greer said the slight drop in prices last month reflects the fact that refiners were anxious to get rid of their winter grade supply, and were switching to summer grade, so they offered substantial discounts to wholesalers.

"Now that's over we're only a couple weeks away from the first major driving holiday of the summer," Greer said, referring to Memorial Day.

The higher cost of gas in mountain resort communities reflects higher costs of transportation and business operations, and a lower level of competition as compared to the Denver metro area, Greer said. The price for a gallon of gas in Vail, $1.70 a gallon, is just slightly higher than in Steamboat.

The average national retail price for unleaded gasoline is up 35 cents from a year ago.

"Higher prices in gas certainly have the potential to impact the summer season," said Sandy Evans, interim director of the Steamboat chamber of commerce. "In the winter, it's the cost of airline fuel that affects tourists. Summer visitors, however, are almost always drivers. Hopefully the cost of gasoline will not deter them too much from vacation plans."

So far, prices haven't deterred residents from driving, gas station owners say.

"People fill up anyway. I don't think it matters how much it costs people adjust their finances," Burrow said.

Bob Logan of Bob's Conoco agreed.

"Commuters from elsewhere in the valley depend on their vehicles for work, and pay without whining," he said.

Steamboat Transit has increased its service frequency to every 20 minutes this summer. Transit Manager George Krawzoff hopes higher gas prices will make people take another look at transit as a viable option.

"I know for many people, who have to transport children too, or get to and from work often, transit is not something they can use every day," he said. "But if they use transit once or twice a week whenever possible it will save them money. How can it not? It's free."

"We have it pretty nice, even with as high as prices are," Dan Armstrong of Steamboat said, in reference to gasoline costs in other countries.

Looking at the world market, even $2 a gallon is relatively low. Norway, the world's second-largest oil exporter, charges it citizens up to $5 per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline.

"But it's easier to get around in other countries," Armstrong added. "Here, we absolutely depend on cars."

Edith Weiss, also of Steamboat, agreed.

"I'm not in Africa, or Europe, or anywhere else where I could walk," she said. "I'm in Colorado, and I expect prices to be lower."

Logan, the Conoco owner, said drivers will have to be patient.

"Prices are always fluctuating, and it takes longer for the prices to go down than it does for them to go up," he said. "The price of crude oil on the world market has started to drop, but it will be a while before that is reflected at the pump level."

To contact Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4205 or email bnadzam@amigo.net

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