Rising fuel costs alarm Kentuckys workers

OWENSBORO, Ky. — As residents of Daviess County watched in horror as Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, they had no way of knowing how quickly they would also feel the impact of this disastrous storm — not in the form of tempests and gale-force winds, but in the form of rising gas prices.

The city of Owensboro sits on the Ohio River, across from Evansville, Ind. It lies two hours south of Louisville, Ky. Its largest employer is Owensboro Medical Health Services, the city’s only hospital. Many other residents work in manufacturing or retail, and most workers live paycheck to paycheck.

The rising price of petroleum has many in this area deeply troubled. Overnight, the price of gas rose from $2.88 to $3.19 per gallon. Many residents, who were able to do so, scrambled to fill their gas tanks before prices rose even further.

One resident told this reporter that if gas prices were to rise to $5 a gallon, as some reports suggest, he had no idea how he was going to be able to afford to go to work. At that price, the cost of filling a 25-gallon tank would be $125.

Bear in mind that the average rent or mortgage in this city is about $300 a month. Rising fuel prices reduce the amount of money available to pay bills, shop for groceries, medicines — and one can forget about any luxuries such as dining out or extra clothes.

Many fear a vicious cycle: With fewer people shopping, more retailers might feel compelled to lay people off, an action that would further depress sales and the whole economy.

One resident said he had a toll-free number to the state attorney general’s office to make complaints about oil company price gouging. Another resident told this reporter that she was encouraged by the fact that Hawaii put a cap on how high gas prices could rise, while still another chimed in that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California had no intention to cap the rising cost of gas.

Many here still recall the gas shortages of the 1970s. A few wondered aloud whether they would have to keep their vehicle in the garage at night to stop others from stealing their gas. Residents remembered the long lines and gas cap locks stemming from the shortages back then, and fear a repeat of those events.

In a city with only six bus routes and one trolley, which operate for a very limited number of hours and only in certain neighborhoods, public transit is not a feasible alternative for many workers here. The promised expansion of the Owensboro Transit System has yet to materialize.

Other residents that work in neighboring Evansville, Ind., are wondering why no one has discussed a bus route that would travel from Owensboro, through Henderson, Ky., to Evansville, which is about a 30-minute drive away. Many people are already discussing the prospects for car-pooling to work.

Western Kentucky has both the flavor of the Deep South and Midwest, and its sentiments are surely echoed throughout the country. President Bush, in one of his recent speeches, urged Americans not to do unnecessary travel over the holidays, but these residents are more concerned with being able to make ends meet at the end of the month and to be able to get back and forth to work.