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Officers irked over gas wars

June 29, 2012
By MIKE HUGHES - Special to the Herald-Star , The Herald-Star

MARTINS FERRY Enough is enough.

That's the opinion of Martins Ferry Police Chief John McFarland when asked about the ongoing gas war between the Starfire Gas Station on the southern edge of town and the adjacent Sunoco Gas Station across the street in Aetnaville.

With prices threatening to dip below $2.90 per gallon, motorists are lining up on Aetna and Broadway streets to take advantage of the savings.

But what's good for motorists and surrounding business has been a big headache for the Martins Ferry Police Department.

Not only does the problem show no signs of getting better but it appears the president of the Hartley Co., a privatetly owned grouping of multiple gas stations in eastern Ohio, based in Cambridge, is not interested in assisting the local police with the problem.

"Myself and Mayor (Paul Riethmiller) called the president of the Hartley Co. (Thursday) and pretty much begged him to try and resolve this," McFarland said. "They are not compensating the city or police department for the increased manpower needed down there.

"Who knows how long this is going to go on for. Eventually, we're going to go broke.

"You have two companies there with plenty of money. They are being stubborn, doing what they wish and don't seemed concerned about safety or cars blocking the road. It doesn't seem like they want to assist in the matter."

The competition to see who can sell the cheapest gas has entered its second week.

The Harley Co., has taken exception to the Sunoco station's breaking of the unwritten rule of gas pricing.

Being that Sunoco is not privately owned, the rule stipulates that Sunoco should keep its prices a penny or two higher than Starfire.

That's no longer happening.

"He made it clear that this will continue until the other station agrees to go back up to the national average and allows his station to stay a cent or two below Sunoco's price," McFarland said of Hartley's president.

"They are not concerned about traffic, possibilities of accidents with injuries they are just worried about one outdoing the other and it's a shame. It upsets me."

McFarland stated that at one point Wednesday, motorists in the northbound lane of state Route 7 that were attempting to turn left onto Aetna Street were backed up clear to the area surrounding the Bridgeport Water Plant. The passing lane motorists are being forced to come to an abrupt halt from speeds in excess of 55 mph in order to account for the traffic jam.

The situation is no better on Broadway Street.

Ferry police tried a different tactic Thursday, closing the Broadway Street entrance to Starfire and routing gas seekers around the back on south Zane Highway and turning onto Crawford Street to enter the station.

This alleviated the traffic issues somewhat on Broadway.

Police aren't the only ones taking exception to the increase in traffic.

"I know the guys from Nickles (Bakery) are not happy," McFarland said. "I can't believe the guy just doesn't seem like he cares."

McFarland has spoken with Bridgeport Police Chief Andrew Klotz about possibly assisting in traffic control, considering one of the stations lies within the Bridgeport jurisdiction.

But McFarland noted Klotz's budget and manpower situation is not as favorable as Ferry and, thus far, Bridgeport has been unable to assist.

It may soon get to that point for Ferry officers.

McFarland said he is either going to have to run up an exorbitant bill in unexpected overtime costs, or, be forced to pull regular patrol officers off their normal duties. That's a decision he'd rather not have to make.

"We'll be there for the safety of the motorists as much as we can, but with my budget, we just can't forsake the rest of the town," McFarland said. "We can't have regular patrol officers that handle calls, perform investigations, etc., standing around directing traffic all day. I've been down there myself directing traffic.

"I'm not going to win. It goes to show you the power that people with money have."

McFarland said he inquired about Starfire possibly bringing in some private security to assist with traffic control. That was brushed aside without further discussion, he said.

According to McFarland, Hartley's president did say he'd ask the staff if they'd be willing to volunteer their time to assist with traffic, but without pay.

McFarland is hoping for a quick end to the gas war and a return to normalcy on the south end of town.

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