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Is it Bristol? Gas prices jump 20 cents in parts of Tri-Cities

Kevin Castle • Aug 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Drivers across the Tri-Cities saw some unpleasant surprises at the gas pump Friday morning, as some retailers decided to increase prices by 20 cents or more, according to information from AAA East Tennessee.

The change occurred a day before the Sharpie 500, which led some people who commented on TimesNews.net to be skeptical of a recent AAA study that showed in the past five years gas prices in the Tri-Cities changed only a few cents during Bristol race week.

Some readers reported a 9 to 10 cent jump in some locations around Kingsport between late Thursday night and midmorning Friday.

“You have to look at specific locations because they can change quickly, in some instances. We just looked at the average (in the five-year study), figuring in prices from numerous stations across a locality,” said AAA East Tennessee public relations specialist Don Lindsey.

Data recorded on AAA East Tennessee Fuel Price Finder’s Web site — available to the public at www.aaaet.com — showed the Gate City/Weber City market had spikes of 9 to 10 cents in less than 12 hours on Friday.

Prices in Bristol, Tenn., rose in some parts of the city 8 to 10 cents.

AAA collects its data from credit card swipes performed at pay-at-the-pump stations across East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

The Wall Street Journal reported that oil futures on the New York Stock Exchange rose by 98 cents on Friday, raising crude oil to $73.88 per barrel, which could give one explanation as to why prices increased.

In case you were wondering if the price hikes could be investigated as instances of price gouging, they cannot according to both the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) and the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office.

“The only time that can be investigated by the state is if there has been a state of emergency declared by the governor,” said Elaine Lidholm, director of the Office of Communication for VDACS.

“But if it’s because of race weekend and (gas station owners) think they can get what they can, the price gouging law doesn’t cover that,” Lidholm said. “Our advice to consumers is do not buy from those stations. If (all of the stations) are doing that, I think that is what we call capitalism.”

Cases of price gouging were investigated in Southwest Virginia last fall following Hurricane Ike, Lidholm said, and the attorney general did rule some of those stations were guilty and would be fined.

Lindsey noted that the same guidelines for price gouging in Tennessee cover times of emergency or unreasonable spikes during acts of war and terrorism, not race week.

“One of the things that is tough to nail down is how long these increases last. They may be precisely timed to everything (with race week), in which case we wouldn’t be able to capture that under any circumstances,” said Lindsey.

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