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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 5, 2006

$4.56 a gallon? Lana'i drivers have no choice

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

Think $3 a gallon is expensive for gasoline? Try $4.56.

That was the price for regular yesterday at Lanai City Service the only public gasoline station on the island and possibly the most expensive station in the nation.

High prices are nothing new for residents of the rural island, which had the dubious distinction of being the first spot in Hawai'i and perhaps the nation to break the $3 barrier for a gallon of regular in 2004.

"We don't like it, but we can't do anything," said Genji Miyamoto, a retiree living in Lana'i City.

"There's only one gas station."

Hawai'i had the highest statewide average price in the nation yesterday at $3.38, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report, and Lana'i typically has the highest price in Hawai'i.

By contrast, Wyoming had the nation's lowest prices. The average price for regular in Casper was nearly $2.56 a gallon, or $2 a gallon lower than Lana'i.

Lana'i's prices are partially offset by the island's small size.

Lana'i City itself is only about a dozen blocks wide and the entire island only has 47 miles of road, versus 1,625 miles of road on O'ahu, according to the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

"When I talk to people on O'ahu, even if I tell them how high prices are, they tell me, '(Yeah, but on Lana'i) where can you drive?' " Miyamoto said.

Still, for Lana'i City residents who work at tourist resorts at Manele Bay, the commute is about a 20-mile roundtrip.

"Everybody does that commute," said Phillip Sowers, a photographer who lives in Lana'i City but works in Manele Bay. "We drive just as much as everybody else."

Sowers said a $60 fill-up of his girlfriend's Audi A4 "hopefully" lasts for two weeks of driving.

"It kills me," he said.

The high prices are a result of the island's low sales volume and the cost of shipping and distributing gasoline, said Terry McBarnet, president of Lanai Oil and vice president of Maui Oil Co. McBarnet supplies the gasoline sold by Lanai City Service station on the corner of 11th Street and Lana'i Avenue.

The high cost of gasoline is part of the price of living in one of the best locations in Hawai'i, said Ron Gingerich, a fine art photographer in Lana'i City who drives to Manele Bay twice a week.

"It's a great place to live. It's old Hawai'i," Gingerich said. "Everyone knows everyone. It's a very tight-knit community."

One thing that might make life a little better is if drivers elsewhere would think of Lana'i before they start squawking about the high price of gas in their town, Sowers said.

"Nobody knows the kind of prices we pay," he said. "If we're going to have the high prices, we should at least get the pity."

Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com.