Apart from wind and rain, Tropical Storm Isaac boosted Southwest Florida’s hurricane shutter businesses, helped spike gasoline prices and possibly contributed to gas price gouging.
Gasoline in Southwest Florida rose 11 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $3.75 per gallon from Fort Myers to Cape Coral, according to AAA Auto Club South.
“Gas prices are up across-the-board in the state of Florida,” said AAA Auto Club South spokeswoman Jessica Brady.
The average regular gasoline price Aug. 20 in the Fort Myers area was $3.64 per gallon.
"We will not know how long and how high gas prices will get until any potential damage to oil platforms in the Gulf is assessed after Isaac passes through," Brady said.
The average regular gasoline price in Naples was $3.79 per gallon Monday, according to gasbuddy.com. This compares with the national average of $3.73 per gallon and $3.72 per gallon in Florida, according to NaplesGasPrices.com.
Last week, the average gas price in Naples was $3.69 per gallon. One month ago, the average gasoline price was $3.43 per gallon, according to gasbuddy.com.
Oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico were shutting down as the storm's projected path threatens an area with many oil refineries.
"It hasn't gotten ugly, yet," said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for gasbuddy.com. "But, there is a potential, that prices at the pump could get ugly in the week ahead."
Florida on Saturday activated a price gouging hotline ahead of the storm. As of midafternoon Monday, the state Attorney General's Office had received 160 storm-related calls. Forty-four of those calls have been referred to the state's price gouging database for further review, John Lucas, spokesman for Attorney General Pam Bondi, wrote in an email.
There have been six reports of price gouging in Charlotte, Collier and Lee counties. Two gasoline price gouging complaints have been filed in Fort Myers gasoline stations and one in Marco Island where customers paid more than $4 per gallon at the pump.
"With thousands of visitors traveling to Tampa Bay for the Republican National Convention, we will protect all residents and visitors from unscrupulous individuals who attempt to prey on consumers," Bondi said in a prepared statement.
Florida law prohibits extreme increases in the price of essential commodities such as food, water, ice, gasoline, lumber and equipment needed as a direct result of an officially declared emergency.
The price gouging hotline number is 1-866-9-NO-SCAM (66-7226).
Brady said AAA hasn't received any calls from customers reporting price gouging.
Gas stations aren't the only businesses seeing an increase.
Monday morning, Mike Marczak, owner of Naples-based Sentinel Storm Protection, had a busy day ahead with potential shutter customers.
"There is certainly a lot of interest," he said.
Marczak, who has been in the hurricane shutter and protection industry for 10 years, said he received a lot of calls from people interested in upgrading their shutters, from heavy storm panels to shutters easier to operate.
Marczak said every time there is a potential hurricane, his company receives at least five calls from interested customers who think that they can get shutters installed that same day, which cannot be done.
It was a similar situation at Naples Shutter Inc.
Owner Brian Trecek, who has been in business for 30 years, said he saw an increase in calls from potential customers, which always happens when there is a named storm potentially threatening Southwest Florida. In the past three days, Naples Shutter received 20 calls from interested clients.
If someone were to call today, Trecek said, shutters could be installed within a week.
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