Gas prices pumped

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LEWISTON – Gasoline prices continued to creep toward the $3-a-gallon mark Monday for the first time since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast last August, but motorists are hoping to weather the new wave of price jumps even as they acknowledge that cheap gas is a thing of the past.

The national average for self-serve unleaded regular was $2.78 Monday, according to the Automobile Association of America. In Maine, premium gas teetered at $2.99 a gallon, although regular could still be had in Lewiston for as little as $2.72.

“I don’t see any relief from this pressure that’s continually being applied to this industry,” Jinger Duryea, president of C.N. Brown, said Monday.

Duryea said the spike in tensions between the United States and Iran over nuclear capabilities has helped propel gas prices higher over the past week. Other reasons for high prices include depleted inventories and increasing demand for gas in the United States.

And there may be more to come. The mandatory minimum wage in Maine will be increased in the fall, along with the state gas tax, at the same time that big changes in gas regulations take effect, she said.

“We’re not going to be laying anyone off,” said Duryea, whose company operates one of the largest convenience store chains in northern New England. “But we will need to increase prices to cover those (new) expenses.”

Meanwhile, tourism-related businesses are hoping visitors will continue a trend of staying in Maine for longer vacations than in the past.

Barbara Gallant, who owns Cupsuptic Campground in Rangeley, said Monday she expects a good summer season, but is worried about the fall. She said that while families are still taking their vacations, the number of other visitors – especially leaf-peepers and weekend campers – declined last year.

She expects the same trend this year.

“Reservations are good right now (for summer visits), but after that, it’s going to be tough,” she said.

Rick Abare, executive director of the 225-member Maine Campground Association, headquartered in Lewiston, said he thinks another trend will continue: More RV owners will decide to park their gas-guzzlers at one campground for the season, instead of moving from campground to campground. They might visit other camping sites, but they will save significantly by staying mostly in one place, Abare said.

Many people who vacationed for one week at a particular campground in the past are now coming for a two-week stay. People who used to come for three or four days now stay a week.

“People are not going to give up their vacations,” Abare said. “… The phone doesn’t ring and there’s no lawn to mow. They will find a way to get to the campground.”

He said high gas prices might discourage out-of-state campers, but Mainers will still go to campgrounds in droves, he said.

“Mainers are within one to two hours of their favorite campground,” Abare said. “The price of gas is not going to affect that.”

Mike Therriault of Auburn said Monday while gassing up in Lewiston that the high prices won’t deter his family from their vacation to Boston. Therriault and his wife and two sons were on their way to Boston to watch the Celtics Monday night and the Red Sox Tuesday night.

“It would have to get pretty bad” to change the family’s travel habits, he said.

However, the Therriaults have been using their Protégé far more often than their Ford Explorer, which gets half the gas mileage.

Karen Johnson of Lewiston, shopping at an Irving station in Lewiston Monday and driving a Honda Civic, said consumers should get used to the high prices.

“This is a sign of things to come, so get prepared,” she said. “The prices might play around a dime here and a dime there, but this is the way it’s going to be.”

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