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Published: 5/23/2007

Gas prices at new heights; at $3.50 a gallon, some put brakes on holiday plans

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

This Memorial Day may end up being one most Toledo-area residents will remember for its record-smashing fuel prices.

Gasoline reached higher into the stratosphere yesterday in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, where the regular-grade price climbed to just shy of $3.50 at stations throughout the region.

The increase to $3.499 a gallon was posted just four days after prevailing area prices reached $3.399 late last week for the first time ever.

Whether prices go even higher this spring and summer, this year s peak will far eclipse previous local records of about $3.10 a gallon set during the last two summers.

Current prices are about twice what they were when regular bottomed out in the $1.70s a gallon in mid-January.

Area motorists and AAA Northwest Ohio alike said yesterday that gas prices will crimp their holiday travel budgets though not necessarily resulting in canceled travel plans.

Kamilha Payne of North Toledo said she abandoned plans to go to Cedar Point this weekend because of the price jump.

I wanted to go out of town, but gas prices are saying No, the 28-year-old said as she sat in her Ford Explorer at the Shell station at Monroe and Michigan streets in downtown Toledo.

At $3.499 a gallon, she said, a tankful cost her $65.

But Kelly Borders of Wayne, Ohio, said her family will still make a camping trip towing a camper trailer to near Dayton despite the really outrageous price of fuel.

That s our family time, she said while filling up at a Kroger station in Bowling Green, adding that cutting driving generally is hard to do when family activities are involved.

We have five kids three of which are in softball or baseball. Then you ve got school events, Girl Scouts, she said. You have to pay the price and [the oil companies] know it. They know they ve got you where they want you.

April Cochran, an auto club spokesman, said AAA s local travel agency and planning service has been just as busy as we were last year.

Auto club clients are traveling just as far, but they re looking for cheaper hotels and so on, Ms. Cochran said. The longer we go with higher gas prices, the more strain it will put on people s budgets.

Nationwide, the auto club expects 38.3 million Americans to travel more than 50 miles from home this weekend, a 1.7 percent increase over last year.

And as usual, the vast majority will travel in private vehicles: 32.1 million, or 84 percent of all holiday travelers.

AAA s national survey of 2,000 adults found that while some will shorten either the distance or duration of their trips, They will continue to plan vacations and getaways.

Robin Innes, a Cedar Point spokesman, said two weeks into the Sandusky amusement park s season is too soon to tell how many potential customers will follow Ms. Payne s lead and drop plans to visit the park.

I would expect that if it stays this high or goes higher, yes, we will feel the effect, he said. Right now, it s hard to tell. Certainly, the higher gas prices won t help us, but the best thing is we re hoping that gas prices will decline, as predicted.

The national average retail price for unleaded regular reached $3.209 yesterday, but the Midwestern states on average were higher than that, according to Tom Kloza, the chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in Wall, N.J.

Compared with a year ago, gasoline cost 47.7 cents more a gallon yesterday in Ohio, and Michigan gas was 59.9 cents higher on average.

While retail prices rose yesterday, wholesale markets plunged, and today will be a key day in determining whether gasoline prices have reached a peak, Mr. Kloza said.

The U.S. Department of Energy will release new data on U.S. gasoline inventories, production, and demand data that in recent weeks have shown diminishing inventories and refinery production shortages even as demand increased.

But if prices indeed are at their peak, any subsequent decline will come too late to help Memorial Day motorists.

Carl Hall, whose $20 paid for 5.7 gallons into his restored 1953 GMC pickup truck at a Sunoco station in Monroe yesterday, said he ll do his Memorial Day camping close to home instead of traveling to a campground near Toledo like he usually does.

I ve now stopped going out of town because of fuel costs, he said before heading off to a weekly car show where he exhibits his pickup truck.

Several others said they ve arranged carpools so they can keep holiday plans without racking up unnecessary miles.

Gerri Kruszynski of Toledo will travel with three relatives to her grandson s high school graduation this weekend in Edon, Ohio, rather than drive separately.

We thought it was silly to drive more than one car, she said.

Similarly, Sam Miller, the owner of a small landscaping business that he says has been hammered by fuel costs, will buddy up to go to a friend s cottage near Saginaw, Mich., this weekend.

You can t stop [fuel prices] and you can t not have fun, he said.

Mr. Miller said he has added a $5 fuel fee to Sam s Landscaping customers bills to offset the $125 a week he s spending to travel to work sites and operate gas-powered equipment.

Last year at this time, I was spending $15 a day on gas. Now it s $25 to $30, he said. I ve had to jack up my prices.

Barbara Siebenaler of Ottawa Hills said her family has become more conscious about combining errands into single trips and using her son s Honda instead of her thirsty Cadillac Escalade, whose tank yesterday cost her $93 to fill at a Speedway at Sylvania Avenue and Talmadge Road.

I never thought I d be filling up my tank with $75 worth of gas, she said.

Fuel costs are giving the area s boating industry jitters too, though Darrell Brand, owner of Brands Marina in Port Clinton, said it s too early to predict the impact on the summer season.

Private and charter fishing vessels provide a steady stream of business at the marina, but Mr. Brand isn t relying on a busy Memorial Day weekend for pleasure boaters.

It ll be interesting to see how this weekend will go, but I m not too optimistic, he said. The last couple years, it has not necessarily been fun.

But sales to boaters getting ready for the season have been fairly steady, said Don Dietz, manager of West Marine in Point Place.

Customers have been buying paint for boat bottoms and other parts. But because the paint is petroleum-based, its price is higher too, he said.

Everybody is becoming a dock princess this year, Mr. Dietz joked, adding that smaller boats are out and about, but the midsize and larger boats are staying at the docks or not even being put in the water.

Every time you turn around, you re hearing more about the prices boat sales are down, boat usage is down, he said. Even if you re not into boating, getting close to the lake from any distance costs an arm and a leg.

Staff writers Erika Ray, Laren Weber, Meghan Gilbert, Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, Joe Vardon, and Jennifer Feehan contributed to this report.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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