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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: Soaring gas prices hit commuters, adventurers, businesses across Inland Northwest

By The Spokesman-Review staff

From staff reports

Gas prices have reached unprecedented numbers in the past few days, with the average price of gas in the Spokane region reaching $5.28 per gallon, according to the fuel price calculator GasBuddy.

It’s the same story across Washington state (with an average of $5.54 per gallon, according to AAA) and across the country with western states bearing the brunt of the high prices. California gas prices reached an average of $6.43 per gallon and Nevada reached $5.64, AAA reported on Saturday.

These recent numbers are in part due to the normal gas price increases that occur every summer, but they also are compounded by two anomalies: pandemic-related disruptions and the ongoing war in Ukraine.

“If you work with the supply and demand dynamics, it’s pretty easy to see how you’re getting prices at this level,” said Grant Forsyth, chief economist at Avista Corp. “This isn’t something that’s necessarily going to disappear. If you look at distant contracts into the winter, you’re still looking at about $4.”

While the pandemic’s darkest days may seem over to many, its effect on the economy remains by way of supply chain disruptions, including for oil producers and refiners, Forsyth said.

“That continues to push gasoline prices up, and then you get into this situation as you move into 2022,” he said. “The war in Ukraine is a major disruption on top of everything else. It disrupts the energy market in a way.”

The sanctions placed on Russia, a major energy exporter, in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine have put an additional strain on energy consumption worldwide.

Even in the unlikely case that the war ended tomorrow and Russian energy exports were restored, the price at the gas pump wouldn’t change for another month, Forsyth said.

The U.S. has endured eye-popping gas prices in the past, most notably in the late ’70s and early ’80s as well as the late 2000s. The average gallon of gas had reached the unthinkable price of $1.08 in the summer of 1978 and peaked at $1.41 in March of 1981, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the 2000s the average price of a gallon gas began to increase again. The most expensive price for an average gallon of gas in the U.S. came in June 2008 at $4.06, which would be $5.46 when adjusted for inflation.

But the price of gas only tells part of the story, Forsyth said. The U.S. economic landscape has changed dramatically since the gas crisis of the ’70s, and even since 2008, he said.

Incomes are higher on average than they were 40 years ago, Forsyth said, which makes it easier to absorb the shock of increased gas prices.

“The other thing is we’re more efficient energy users than we used to be,” Forsyth said. “Cars are made better.”

Not to mention, more people are starting to purchase hybrid and electric vehicles, he said.

Domestic energy production also has been reinvigorated since that time, not just through fracking technology but also through the continued development of renewable energy tech, he said.

In the last two years alone, the U.S. economy has changed dramatically with a large chunk of the workforce now working from home.

“As I talk to firms in the region and other employers, it’s pretty clear there’s a permanent shift to a certain amount of working from home for certain organizations depending on the job requirements,” Forsyth said. “Part of that also reflects that working from home has reached a critical mass, and firms are competing with employers outside of their regions.”

With all of these things taken into account, the increased gas prices in the previous years were probably worse than what we might see today, Forsyth said. “The hardship induced in 2008 was probably more severe in terms of budgets on consumers than what we see now,” he said.

Forsyth doesn’t anticipate any relief in the near future. The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates soon, Forsyth said, which will slow consumer and business activity and ultimately affect energy prices.

“The period of time in which monetary policy changes and when inflation is going to be impacted … is very hard to predict,” Forsyth said.

– Quinn Welsch

High gas chills summer tourism

Gas prices are slightly cheaper in the areas outside of Spokane. To the north, in Newport, gas was $5.04 a gallon on Tuesday.

Lynnette King, administrator at Newport’s visitor center, said many residents are filling their tanks a few blocks across the Idaho border in Oldtown, where prices were a bargain at $4.89.

She anticipates higher prices will reduce tourism this summer. “People are concerned, so it’s probably going to cut back on a lot of tourism in places, unfortunately,” she said.

Recently, out-of-state visitors have told her their road trip plans have changed because of gas prices.

“When tourists come in and say they have to cut things short, it’s pretty bad. So, people are going to be changing their minds about traveling this summer, I have no doubt,” King said.

King scrapped her own travel plans to visit her son in Cedar City, Utah, this summer for the same reason. She knew she could afford the trip down, but worried how high prices might be once she was there.

Smita Amin, owner of the Golden Spur Motor Inn in Newport, has noticed a big difference in reservations. “In June, we always fill up,” she said, but there are many vacancies at the moment.

It’s not just gas, inflation and higher prices in general are discouraging travel too.

“Definitely everything is expensive, people are not driving,” Amin said.

– James Hanlon

Gas rewards programs give little relief

Bud Brown, 39, was filling his 2001 Chevy Silverado up at the Fred Meyer Fuel Center on Freya Street. Nearly 22 gallons of regular gas cost Brown $120, even with his Fred Meyer membership, which shaves three cents off each gallon.

“I usually could put $50 in there, and it puts me at about a quarter full,” Brown said.

Gas at Fred Meyer’s fuel center ranged from $5.29 to $5.89. Though Fred Meyer’s gas rewards provide some relief, it is still stretching Brown’s dollars thin.

“My girl has an ’05 Acura MDX and she was telling me yesterday, while she was filling up at Costco, that she was seeing the gas go up to $80, and she yelled ‘Oh my God, is it about to go up to $100?’ ” Brown said. “We’ve never had to pay this much for a tank of gas. She’s using Costco’s saving rewards, and it’s still $85 without her tank being on complete ‘E.’ ”

Brown is the breadwinner of his family of five and owns Select Solution, a pressure-washing business. He visits customers in his Chevy Silverado and spends nearly $300 on gas in less than two weeks.

Gas is just a slice of the nation’s historic inflation increase. This affects Brown’s chemical washing inventory, too, with prices of bleach and other chemicals increasing by nearly $2 per gallon. Ethanol-free gas to power his pressure-washing machines have nearly doubled too.

“We use a lot of pool bleach to kill algae when we do house washes, and a jug of bleach that used to cost $3 or something, it’s now $5-something after tax,” Brown said. “Almost every chemical, degreaser, every thing we use has gone up in price.”

– Amber D. Dodd

Local RV parks expect shift in visitor activity

While more vacationers sought out road trips in RVs and campers during the pandemic, that could change this summer due to rising gas prices.

Local RV parks, including Ruby’s Resort & RV on Silver Lake, 17207 W. Medical Lake-Four Lakes Road, already are seeing a shift in camping activity.

“People are not only complaining about gas prices but also are talking about staying in one spot longer or shortening their trips,” said Joe Long, camp host at Ruby’s Resort.

Ruby’s Resort & RV on Silver Lake describes itself as the oldest campground in Eastern Washington, occupying 5 acres of land and 1,200 feet of shoreline on Silver Lake. Services include RV and camp sites, an event venue and vacation home rental.

The park attracts tourists from across the nation, in addition to international guests, some of whom are visiting from Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands.

Rising gas prices also may impact boating activity on Silver Lake, Long added.

“Because the weather has been inclement, we have not seen as much recreational boating in use yet, but folks that own watercraft are talking about being on budget for enjoying their leisure time,” Long said.

– Amy Edelen

Tony Epefanio, owner of Mixed Plate Food Truck and Catering, said rising costs, including those for gas, are killing small businesses like food trucks.  (Greg Mason / The Spokesman-Review)
Tony Epefanio, owner of Mixed Plate Food Truck and Catering, said rising costs, including those for gas, are killing small businesses like food trucks. (Greg Mason / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Food trucks: ‘Everything is destroying us’

The last time Mirak Kazanjian was quoted by The Spokesman-Review, the national average for a gallon of diesel was $4.53. That was in March.

The owner of Skewers food truck was then considering whether to reduce trips to North Idaho food truck events. Now, with diesel prices averaging around $5.75, Kazanjian said last week Idaho is off the table this year, while any other new bookings will carry a drive fee.

“Things are adding up. Gas is just another one of them,” he said. “It’d be nice if we had a break somewhere. … The biggest thing is hope it gets better, try to put our heads down and let’s keep driving.”

Fuel prices affect Skewers’ bottom line with those long, out-of-town trips for special events and weddings, Kazanjian said.

At the same time, he still is dealing with rising costs on ingredients and supplies, while grocery store supply chain issues have affected inventory. Kazanjian has adjusted prices to adapt, such as charging for once-complementary sauces.

He’s not alone. Tony Epefanio, owner of Mixed Plate Food Truck and Catering, pointed to how Mixed Plate raised chicken prices another $1.

“It’s almost like we have to raise our prices again, but we’re not going to,” he said.

Epefanio has had gas purchases well over $120 to fill his Chevrolet Suburban and his generator.

“Everything is destroying us,” Epefanio said. “You always hear different excuses of what things are, and obviously, there are legitimate excuses.

“But I think also too, other industries that don’t need to price gouge have price gouged,” he continued. “The frustration is it’s tough to keep operating over these last handful of years with everything that’s happened.”

– Greg Mason

Mirak Kazanjian is the owner of Skewers food truck.  (Greg Mason / The Spokesman-Review)
Mirak Kazanjian is the owner of Skewers food truck. (Greg Mason / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Bus riders getting more company as prices climb

Commuters at the downtown Spokane Transit Authority Plaza on Thursday said they’d noticed lines growing longer in recent weeks to grab a coach out of town.

“It’s definitely a lot busier here than normal,” said Samantha Vasquez, who in April stopped getting rides from her fiancée to a job downtown because of the increasing gas prices.

“I maybe get gas, once a month,” Vasquez said, and she recently dedicated herself to busing to and from work because of the increasing costs of filling up.

“Everybody was talking about gas prices today at work,” she said.

Like Vasquez, Julie Robertson works downtown and gets a subsidized STA pass through her work. The monthly cost of parking, and filling up to get there, became too much a couple months ago, Robertson said.

“I just thought, that’s just too expensive,” she said.

Robertson said she’s noticed a few more riders.

“When I first started riding, it wasn’t unusual for me to be the only one on the bus, every once in a while,” she said. “That’s rare now.”

– Kip Hill

High fuel prices hit wheat farmers already facing volatile market

It takes a lot of fuel to keep a farm running smoothly: off-road diesel, street diesel and gasoline. The rising costs have some farmers worried about breaking even, after an especially cold and damp spring and years of drought in Washington.

Andy Juris is a fourth-generation farmer from Central Washington, and serves as vice president for the Washington Association of Wheat Growers. He said the rising cost of fuel has him and his neighbors worried their input costs may be too high to overcome, as their yield may be significantly lower this year.

Fuel costs continue to climb higher as the market for wheat remains volatile, due largely to the conflict in Ukraine. The average price of diesel in Washington hit another record high on Sunday, reaching $6.20 per gallon, compared to $3.51 this time last year.

“You’re just kind of having faith that either the yield, the price or both are gonna be there to cover your inputs on a year like this,” Juris said.

Juris farms 6,000 to 10,000 acres of wheat, alfalfa and hay in Klickitat County, depending on the season and crop rotation. He said he has hundreds of gallons of off-road diesel in storage, and is hoping that’s enough to last him till harvest. He stocked up because he is concerned about the possibility of a diesel shortage, as the oil industry cut back on diesel production in order to produce more gasoline and jet fuel.

“Whether it’s things like drought, or if it’s things like crazy high input prices, you kind of get as a farmer where you feel like you’ve taken enough risks, and you just kind of want to put your head down and not even think about it anymore,” Juris said. “Talking to my neighbors and whatnot, I just kind of encourage them to keep their heads up. You gotta keep thinking, let’s put one foot in front of the other.”

– Nick Gibson

Work to watch for

Two blocks of Riverside Avenue on the eastern edge of downtown will close Monday, and travelers headed south on Browne Street will need to pay attention.

The first phase of a construction project that will reconfigure traffic lanes on Riverside and replace a main waterline will close the street from Division Street west to Bernard Street. Traffic on Browne Street will be reduced to two lanes and signal work will take place at Browne and Riverside.

Division will remain fully open during the work.

Flagging will begin Monday on Strong Road between Austin Road and Nettleton Court.

Avista will work on the South Hill beginning Monday, leading to flagging at 31st Avenue and Freya Street, Napa Street and Sharp Avenue, and Nevada Street between Lincoln Road and Magnesium Road. The southbound curb lane of Ray Street will be closed with flagging between 31st and 34th avenues.

The utility also will be working at 17th Avenue between Hogan and Helena streets in the South Perry neighborhood starting Monday through July 13. A curb lane will be closed on Ash Street between Spofford and Maxwell avenues.

The intersection of Houston Avenue and Pittsburg Street in the Nevada-Lidgerwood neighborhood will be closed beginning Wednesday for a water project.

The 25th Avenue Block Party will close the street between Napa and Crestline from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday.