By SCOTT GRAVES
The Brookings Police Department has been asked to help Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers investigate complaints of exorbitant gas prices in the wake of Tuesdays terrorist attacks.
His office called us, asking for names of gas stations in the Brookings area and the owners who raised their prices, said Police Lt. John Bishop on Friday.
They told me if they can, they will prosecute those people, Bishop said. Mr. Meyers is extremely upset about this.
Bishop said he gave Myers office the names of several gas stations whose prices jumped dramatically after the attacks, as well as the name of the companies that own them.
The names included the Medford-based Colvin Oil, which owns several gas stations in Brookings-Harbor, and the Bandon-based Rons Oil, which owns the Exxon station in Brookings.
Attempts by to contact officials with these companies were unsuccessful. The owners either didnt return phone calls or were out of the office and employees had said they could not comment.
Angry residents swamped with phone calls and e-mails following the gas hikes at more than six stations in town. In some cases, the price for regular unleaded went from $1.83 before the attacks to $2.03 afterward.
As of Friday, prices at most of the stations were hovering around $1.93.
Keith Eaton, manager of the Exxon station on Chetco Avenue, said he didnt blame motorists for getting upset about the price increases.
The prices are bull, Eaton said. I had customers who had been coming here for years wanting to pick a fight with us because of it. I told them I agreed with them.
Eaton went so far as to place a sign at the station directing people to call the corporate office of Rons Oil.
Eaton said the people working at the stations didnt make the decision to raise the prices.
We get a call from the headquarters saying set this price and we do it, he said.
Within hours of the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., the attorney generals consumer hotline was jammed with calls from residents of Marion and Polk counties, complaining about the huge increases in gasoline prices.
The calls continued throughout the week and included other parts of the state. Consumers reported gasoline prices increasing hourly with gains of up to 25 cents a gallon.
Profiteering on the misery of others is unconscionable, Myers said. We have opened an investigation and are closely scrutinizing complaints of exorbitant prices on necessary goods such as gasoline.
Dealers charging excessive and unjustified prices for gasoline with consumers having little choice but to purchase will not be tolerated.
Following past disasters such as the 1996 floods in Oregon, some merchants took advantage of the situation and dramatically increased the price of essential goods such as food and gasoline, officials said.
During the past two legislative sessions, both Myers, State Representative Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, and State Senator Peter Courtney, D-Salem, supported price gouging legislation only to have bills defeated from lack of support.
Oregon law currently permits merchants to increase prices in response to supply and demand, but does not address price gouging.
We are asking citizens buying gasoline to quickly report any incidents of large price increases at the pump or circumstances where the only gasoline available was the highest priced premium, Myers said.
Consumers may call the attorney generals consumer hotline at (503) 378-4320 (Salem area only), (503) 229-5576 (Portland area only) or (877) 877-9392.