State News

Gas shortages linger in Western N.C.

Posted October 7, 2008 8:44 a.m. EDT
Updated October 7, 2008 10:47 a.m. EDT

— Some signs of the gas shortage haven't disappeared in North Carolina's mountains despite increased deliveries of fuel.

Most gas stations have fuel and operators say the situation is greatly improved, but some area pumps still sport plastic bags showing there isn't fuel in them, The Asheville Citizen-Times reported Tuesday.

Buncombe County emergency services director Jerry VeHaun said Monday that 70 to 80 percent of the county's stations had gas. Some stations remained closed, however.

"It's going to take another couple of weeks to get things back to normal, but we're doing better," VeHaun said. "The stations are getting a little inventory in the ground."

The shortages began after hurricanes shut down refineries along the Gulf coast and squeezed off supplies to a pipeline that serves central and western North Carolina.

"As of (Monday) morning, 16 of our 55 stations were out of gas," said Ron Freeman, chief financial officer at Ingles Markets, an area supermarket chain.

"Our buying has been steady, but still at reduced rates. What we're getting is selling quickly, but without long lines. We're starting to see more premium (grade fuel) as well."

Florida resident Iain Calder, who rents a home in Lake Toxaway each year, said the shortages baffled him.

"I don't understand why the government and local politicians haven't addressed this," Calder said.

Scott Shealy, vice president of Citizens Fuel Co., which operates 10 stations in the Asheville area and supplies another 15, said supplies still were tight at the South Carolina terminals from which fuel is brought to the mountains.

"I think we're still at a point where everything that is coming in is, by and large, going into vehicles as opposed to going into underground storage tanks," Shealy said.

Steve Baker, spokesman for Colonial Pipeline, the company that moves fuel north from the Gulf area, said the pipeline to the Carolinas was running at a higher than usual rate.

AAA Carolinas spokeswoman Carol Gifford said the Charlotte area and the mountains are still the hardest hit. It likely will take another week or more to return to normal.

"But people should expect that we're still resolving the issue, and we've not built up any kind of inventory in the ground," she said.