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Flip-flop: Gas prices go way up, then drop

Fuel prices around the area were dropping yesterday after motorists were stunned last week with sharp increases ‘ including more than one price hike in a day’s time ‘ in response to Hurricane Katrina.
Ironically, the hike left some retailers at a disadvantage, at least temporarily, because their old fuel pumps could not register more than $2.99 per gallon.
Jane Riddle, who owns the Milltown 76 Mini Mart with her husband, Mike, said they had to start charging customers based on half-gallons.
‘We had signs out at the pumps explaining that,’ Jane said yesterday afternoon.
The fuel supplier was ordering parts for the station in Milltown and five others to retrofit the pumps so that when gas is above $2.99 a gallon, the price can be calculated at the pump.
Riddle sold gas at $3.36 a gallon Tuesday, but she heard the next delivery, expected this Friday, might not be so costly, thereby allowing her to lower the price.
Satterfield’s Garage in Depauw had one of the highest prices around on Monday: $3.49 a gallon. Owner Donald Satterfield also had to set his pumps to charge by the half-gallon.
‘I heard a lot of cussing,’ he said.
Yesterday afternoon, Satterfield lowered the price to $3.08 per each gallon of lowest-grade octane.
Wholesale gasoline prices began to rise steadily the last weekend in August as reports came in that U.S. refining and production operations in the Gulf of Mexico had been shut down because of the hurricane.
On Aug. 28, low-grade octane could be purchased in Corydon for $2.45. But as Katrina pushed inland, prices jumped to $2.99 last Tuesday, then broke the $3 barrier ‘ for the first time in this area ‘ later the same day. Some stations were selling fuel at $3.19.
As the devastation of the massive storm began to sink in, fuel prices continued to soar. Some retailers ‘ none were reported in this area ‘ experienced shortages as consumers flocked to the pumps to stock up on whatever they could.
Prices topped out here near $3.50 as assessments came in as to how much damage the refineries sustained and with the Bush administration’s decision to release emergency stockpiles of oil.
A day after Katrina crashed into the Gulf Coast, Indiana Att. Gen. Steve Carter, through a press release, urged gasoline retailers to ‘exercise reasonable judgment’ and asked consumers to ‘continue normal purchasing habits’ while waiting to see what the actual impact of the hurricane would be on gasoline prices.
The Indiana legislature passed a price gouging bill in 2002 that prohibits price gouging for fuel products under certain circumstances as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. More than 3,200 complaints of gasoline gouging were filed in Carter’s office following the attack. Carter said 125 gasoline stations were initially investigated; 67 retailers were cleared, and 58 admitted to excessively raising prices.
A check around Corydon yesterday between 2:30 and 2:45 p.m., showed most stations had dropped back to $3.09 per gallon of low octane unleaded. The exceptions to those eight retailers were the BP station at S.R. 62 and Corydon-Ramsey Road, which charged $3.07, and Coakley’s, at Chestnut and Mulberry streets, which posted $3.14 for a gallon of regular unleaded. That’s still almost a quarter more than what some retailers in neighboring Floyd County and across the Ohio River in Jefferson County were charging. Signs boasting $2.87 to $2.89 were common in those areas on Labor Day.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Carter said consumers who wish to register a complaint about gas prices can do so online at www.in.gov/attorney/consumer/gasonline.html.

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