By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

If Del Norte County residents think gasoline prices are high now, think again.

It wouldnt be out of the question to see $3 per gallon this summer for regular unleaded gasoline, said Jay McKeeman, executive vice president of California Independent Oil Marketers Association.

Already, high prices at the pump are causing an exodus to points further north of town, according to Juanita Carte of Crescent City Chevron on south Highway 101, where prices for regular unleaded have risen 14 cents per-gallon in two weeks.

Customers have really drizzled off here, Carte said. They will get enough gas to get them to Brookings and then they will fill up there.

I cant really blame them. You can get gas 30 cents-per-gallon cheaper up there. But it hurts our economy when our money goes across the border, she said.

Del Norte County Supervisor Chuck Blackburn agreed, adding that the problem wont go away without intervention.

With these kinds of prices, were just inviting tourists to bypass us, said Blackburn. People need to speak out. Personally, Im fed up with it. Im tired of these dudes getting away with murder, he added in reference to wholesale fuel suppliers.

Blackburn and fellow supervisor David Finigan plan on addressing this issue in Sacramento next Thursday at the monthly conference of Rural Counties of California.

Weve got a meeting with Senator Wes Chesbro and we hope to get one with (Assemblywoman) Virginia Strom-Martin. Chesbro has asked the attorney general of California to look into the situation, he said.

Although there are many factors that can create price spikes at the gas pump, its a combination of Californias tight regulations on fuel additives and the isolation of Del Norte County that conspire to keep prices high here even when other regions experience relatively low prices, according to McKeeman.

The further you are away from a refinery, the more difficult and expensive it is to transport fuel there, McKeeman said. For Crescent City, a barge needs to be towed from the Bay Area to Eureka, and then transported north from there.

While McKeeman said logistics, fuel supplies and state taxes were fundamental reasons for high gas prices, he added that Del Norte residents suffer needlessly on pollution issues.

I think the logical question for people in Crescent City to ask is why shouldnt we ask the state to carve us out of these stringent air-quality regulations? McKeeman asked.

McKeeman pointed to tough California standards being set up using the smoggy Los Angeles basin as a model, with a problematic inversion layer causing most of its air-quality problems.

The price difference between California and Oregon is partially due to Californias specs, McKeeman said. There is more federal spec gasoline available in the Northwest than there is California spec, and California spec is only produced in California.

Since Crescent City is more closely tied to the Northwest in both climate and pollution problems than it is to Los Angeles, McKeeman said he believed it would make sense for the region to be held to Northwest guidelines.

You guys can drive across the border in a couple minutes, buy federal spec gasoline for less, and there is no law that prevents that, he said. So who benefits?

One customer today that was clearly satisfied for the moment was Bill Poe, as he loaded up on diesel fuel for his truck. Diesel is currently slightly less expensive in Crescent City than in Brookings.

Im for anything that will bring the prices down here, or just bring it in cheaper, Poe said. It seems like prices just keep going up and up and up on us.