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MAHONING VALLEY Long lines fade at gas stations; some run dry



Published: Thu, September 13, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



THE VINDICATOR, YOUNGSTOWN

'Unconscionable' is how a state legislator described the price gouging.

VINDICATOR STAFF REPORT

YOUNGSTOWN -- Lines disappeared at area gas stations, but some stations still had empty tanks Wednesday evening.

Prices spiked at a few stations and edged up at others, prompting government officials to be concerned about price gouging in the wake of Tuesday's terrorist attack.

Some stations raised their prices between 5 cents and 50 cents a gallon Tuesday or Wednesday, and the mayor's office in Warren reported some stations briefly were charging $4 a gallon. Lines had formed at many stations Tuesday evening as people grew concerned that larger price spikes were coming.

Stations still were busy Wednesday morning, but business returned to normal levels by Wednesday evening, at least at those stations that had gas. Some stations that were out of gas early Wednesday morning had been refilled later in the day, but others were still waiting Wednesday evening or had run out of gas again.

In Calcutta: At the Sheetz station in Calcutta in Columbiana County, a clerk there said the supply of all grades had run out early in the day. A tanker made one delivery shortly afterward, but even that was sold out by midday, she said. The station generally gets three or four deliveries in a day.

In Lisbon, both Marathon and Dairy Mart stations on North Market Street were sold out of regular unleaded Wednesday evening but had higher grades of gas.

Price increases: Government officials were expressing concern about price increases.

Youngstown Mayor George McKelvey said he had authority under city ordinances to order gas stations closed for price gouging, which is charging more than necessary to take advantage of an emergency.

McKelvey issued a notice to serve as warnings to gas stations. It said businesses would be closed immediately if they have increased the price of gas without a reason that is justified by economics.

In Warren: Warren Mayor Hank Angelo asked residents who suspect price gouging to call city hall at (330) 841-2603 or the Trumbull County commissioners' offices at (330) 675-2451 so complaints could be forwarded to the state attorney general's office.

A fax titled "Exorbitant Gasoline Prices" was sent from Angelo's office Wednesday to Doug Moorman of Gov. Bob Taft's office. It lists gas stations in the city that raised prices and then lowered them.

It lists one at Summit Street N.W. and Tod Avenue N.W. as charging $1.69 per gallon during the day Tuesday. Regular gas in the evening cost $4 a gallon, the fax said, and by Wednesday afternoon it was back to $1.69.

Another, at Summit Street N.W. and Parkman Road N.W., at one time charged $4 per gallon, but by Wednesday afternoon, it was at $1.60, the fax said.

A station at the corner of South Street and Pine Avenue went from $1.59 to $3.89 and back. Another, at the corner of North Park Avenue and Atlantic Street, soared to $4 per gallon.

Angelo's secretary, Christina Kapolis, said she compiled the fax after receiving numerous calls from residents.

"People are outraged," she said. "They don't know where else to call."

Columbiana County: Nancy Milliken, Columbiana County auditor, said that she hasn't received any reports of price gouging but that the county's weights and measures inspector will visit any station that has a complaint filed against it.

Any that don't meet pumping regulations will be tagged as out of service, she said.

The county auditor's office number is (330) 424-9515, extension 601.

To report gas gouging to the Ohio Attorney General's Office, call (800) 282-0515 or log onto www.ag.state.oh.us/consumer/howhandl.htm.

Taking action: State senators Robert F. Hagan, of Youngstown, D-33rd, and Tim Ryan of Niles, D-32nd, asked the attorney general's office to relay all evidence of price gouging so the appropriate county prosecutors can take action.

"I find it unconscionable that retailers of our area, and it appears across the state, are preying upon the fears of our citizens to make a few bucks," Hagan said.

Hagan and Ryan also sent names of local gas stations that raised prices in the aftermath of Tuesday's tragedy.

Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery warned gasoline retailers not to raise their prices too high as a way to profit from the terrorist attacks. "If we find violations of Ohio law, we will pursue immediate action to discontinue this practice," she said.

Montgomery said there is no reason for gas prices to skyrocket, because there is no fuel shortage and supply levels are normal.




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