Christie: Drivers shrug off higher gas prices for 4th of July, summer travel

Gas prices, which surged ahead of the July 4th holiday, are expected to keep rising through the summer. Pump prices are already the highest since 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

After weeks and weeks of dueling stories about whether gas prices will continue to go up ahead of the July 4th holiday, the consensus seems to have settled on consumers paying more at the pump.

RELATED: Christie: Um… so what’s going on with these rising gas prices?

According to Gas Buddy, which as late as last week was proclaiming a drop in the highest gas prices drivers have seen in four years, motorists hitting the road to celebrate the July 4 holiday will be shelling out an average of $2.90 per gallon, the highest Independence Day gas prices since 2014, when the national average hit $3.66 per gallon.

“Oil has surged over 10 percent just in time for summer’s busiest travel holiday, costing motorists over $1 billion more than last year,” Patrick DeHaan, a GasBuddy analyst, said in a news release. “All the ingredients exist for the national average to inch closer to $3 per gallon, just in time for the second half of the summer.”

But whether that will cause drivers to curtail or even change their travel plans is altogether another question; and most analysts don’t believe it will. They expect a record-breaking number of Americans to travel by car this holiday, and traffic to be at its worst on Tuesday in the late afternoon.

Motorists are expected in record numbers this week despite higher gas prices. ( Bloomberg / Patrick T. Fallon)

AAA, which has tracked travel numbers over Fourth of July for the last 18 years, reports that the number of on-the-road travelers will be up 5 percent from 2017. That’s despite gas prices going up an average of 62 cents across the country from a year ago.

Again, we are still pretty far from the 2014 national average and most analysts don’t believe motorists will be jarred into changing their driving habits until the price hits the psychological threshold of $3 per gallon.

They might not have to wait for long. Higher prices are expected to hang around all summer. After five-straight weeks of prices dropping, gas prices are likely to increase again as oil prices surged to $73 per barrel late Thursday, the highest since 2014. The U.S. State Department ordered buyers to curb their oil purchases from Iran by November. In addition, OPEC’s smaller-than-expected oil production increase last week fueled speculation that global inventories will continue to drop, and a government report showed U.S. oil inventories dropped three times as much as expected as total petroleum exports from the U.S. hit a new record high.

President Donald Trump said Saturday that he had received assurances from King Salman of Saudi Arabia that the kingdom will increase oil production, “maybe up to 2,000,000 barrels” in response to turmoil in Iran and Venezuela. Key OPEC member Saudi Arabia acknowledged the call took place, but mentioned no production targets.

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters aboard Air Force One as he travels to his resort in Bedminster, N.J. on Saturday. Trump said that he was pressuring Saudi Arabia and OPEC to increase oil production. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

Trump wrote on Twitter that he had asked the king in a phone call to boost oil production “to make up the difference…Prices to (sic) high! He has agreed!”

A little over an hour later, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported on the call, but offered few details.

“During the call, the two leaders stressed the need to make efforts to maintain the stability of oil markets and the growth of the global economy,” the statement said.

It added that there also was an understanding that oil-producing countries would need “to compensate for any potential shortage of supplies.” It did not elaborate.

Well, there you go. We’ll have to see whether the Saudis honor any agreement with the president. And even if they do, whether it will have the desired effect of pushing down gas prices.

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Regardless, even with high gas prices, most motorists aren’t likely to curtail their travel during the most popular summer holiday, due to its appeal and rich tradition celebrating the nation’s birthday.

AAA says that the Fourth of July falling on Wednesday this year has given travelers more flexibility to schedule trips either the weekend before or after the holiday. That could account for the increase is drivers this year.

Are high gas prices having an effect on your travel plans?

Christie: Rising tide of horse manure threatens Palm Beach County water, FAU prof warns

Frank Merlino of JH Hauling & Services Inc. in Wellington prepares a pile of horse manure for disposal. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)
Frank Merlino of JH Hauling & Services Inc. in Wellington prepares a pile of horse manure for disposal. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Only in Wellington and Loxahatchee Groves could horse manure be an issue.

And only this time of year would that issue be a topic of discussion.

As Post contributor J. William Louda, a research professor in Florida Atlantic University’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Environmental Sciences Program, noted this morning:

“The equestrian season is once again upon us.

Catherine Sullivan rides Belladonna Z during a competition at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington last month. The Winter Equestrian Festival starts this week, and runs to April 2 at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Catherine Sullivan rides Belladonna Z during a competition at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington last month. The Winter Equestrian Festival starts this week, and runs to April 2 at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

This a fantastic industry that provides many jobs, financial gains for Palm Beach County and tremendous entertainment for observers, such as myself. However, it also comes with a huge environmental burden — hundreds of thousands of tons of nitrogen and phosphorus-laden wastes.

I have been studying phosphorus pollution from horse manure and bedding wastes for more than a decade, and can offer some simple math. The waters of South Florida need to have low levels of phosphorus for the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and our coastal waters to function properly. The target for the Everglades is 10 parts per billion (10 ppb = 10 micrograms per liter).

One point source that I sampled was a nursery that has a lot of horse waste … “

Louda, who was quoted often during last summer’s toxic algae crisis, has also been a bit of a lightning rod for critics of the sugar industry’s alleged role in helping cause the pollution in Lake Okeechobee that spilled into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River estuaries.

But bringing Wellington’s high-minded equestrian community — during equestrian season — into the debate could be the last straw for some.

In fact, calling today’s Point of View op-ed “horse manure” may be the most appropos pun of all.

What do you think?

Letter: Boat show impact not all positive for West Palm Beach

031816 PBDN Meghan McCarthy Palm Beach Shoppers and browsers stroll through the International Boat Show Saturday. The event runs through Sunday.
Palm Beach Shoppers and browsers stroll through the International Boat Show.

As a West Palm Beach resident, I read with great interest the article in Friday’s Post regarding the Palm Beach International Boat Show (“Rain doused prospects for record boat show attendance”).

The article reports the annual estimated “value” to the local community at “more than $76 million” from the boat show itself, and an additional benefit to the community of “nearly $2 billion” from the marine industry. The numbers are highly suspect.

Were the estimates made by qualified, independent consultants after appropriate study, or are these “estimates” just sales pitches from the promoters of the show? The article did not disclose the direct and indirect cost of the show to the city. Equally significantly, it failed to consider the enormous inconvenience to the public that results directly from the show.

The promoter of the show says that it “is now ranked among the largest boat and yacht shows in the nation.” Precisely because of its size and duration, and the time it takes to set up and disband the show, it severely disrupts traffic, access to residences and to small businesses throughout downtown and along the waterfront.

Who benefits from all of this “March madness”? Certainly not the small businesses that can’t be reached because of traffic and parking issues. Is the city reimbursed for all of its direct and indirect expenses, including policing, landscaping, etc.? Is the city adequately compensated for the use of its streets and waterfront? If not, why not?

What is the real impact on the city?

RICHARD D. GREENFIELD, WEST PALM BEACH

Christie: My Cuba ‘adventure’ hard to put into words

IMG_20160317_093852When I mention to folks that I’ve just returned from Cuba (visited March 16-20), invariably the response is one of surprise followed by the breathless questions: “You’ve been to Cuba? What was it like?”

You’d think the answer would be easy, but I’m often caught off guard by where to start. I usually give the knee-jerk response, “It was an adventure” or “It’s a very interesting place.”

I know; a real cop out answer.

Truthfully, it is a very interesting place that is quite an adventure. But does it start with just getting there (which was an ALL-DAY adventure all in itself)? Do I talk about the great food (like garlic octopus), the addictive coffee or plentiful rum (it’s about more than just Havana Club)? How about the fact that I wish I could bottle whatever allows Cubans to be so less stressed than us Americans?

As my Sunday column shows, I chose to focus on a few notable things that really defined the Cuban people and my trip for me; especially when it came to the U.S.-Cuba embargo. And it was capped by the arrival of President Barack Obama for his historic visit to the Communist island.

The following email from a reader is typical of the responses I’ve gotten:

“Airport window… Loved your column today. It described our feelings about Cuba exactly. What wonderful people and how little they make do with… Among other places we stayed was a bed and breakfast owned by a Dr… He worked in Havana all week and wife took in visitors… Immaculate. 3 pigs were slaughtered in the yard next to us… what a contrast… could go on and on.. Have been to many places but none like Cuba.

Our of our guide was the architect overseeing remake of old Havana and he said they are afraid the infrastructure will not be able to handle the influx of cruise ships etc. .. God bless Cuba.

Signed a spoiled blessed American. Again thanks for your column… I’m saving it.”

Same here.

 

Letter: Luring back Atlanta Braves not in Palm Beach County’s best interest

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran throws in the first inning against the Houston Astros in a spring training baseball game, Friday, March 25, 2016, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Regarding “idea of luring Atlanta Braves” (Thursday): County Commissioner Hal Valeche and his colleagues need to figure out “a creative way” to fund the best schools in the country, and to attend to the maintenance of the innumerable infrastructure needs throughout the county.

We don’t have enough money for these most fundamental functions of local government without raising sales taxes, but we can find “a creative way” to pour tens of millions of dollars into subsidizing baseball millionaires.

The hubris of the suggestion that there is “a creative way” to rig the system for a baseball billionaire boggles the mind and suggests just how isolated not only Mr. Valeche is but also any commissioner who would even entertain the idea.

Indeed, any county commissioner who votes for more subsidies for baseball millionaires should be voted out of office.

MIKE ARNOLD, WEST PALM BEACH

Palm Beach County and the Atlanta Braves: Are commissioners itching to play ball?

Atlanta Braves' Hall-of-Fame pitcher John Smoltz, facing the New York Mets in 2007. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Atlanta Braves’ Hall-of-Fame pitcher John Smoltz, facing the New York Mets in 2007. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Just days after an agonizing debate over whether to advance a sales tax proposal to the voters in November, Palm Beach County commissioners are gushing about the chance to build a spring training facility for yet another major league team, the Atlanta Braves.

Hal Valeche, who met with Braves officials over breakfast on Wednesday morning, had voted against the $2.7 billion sales tax plan on Tuesday, saying it strayed too far from its original purpose of repairing roads and schools because it contained $121 million for cultural institutions and possibly another $40 million for economic development projects. And throughout the hours of discussion, he sounded every bit the tight-fisted conservative.

But after chowing down with top Braves officials, Valeche said, “I told them I would try as hard as I could to figure out a creative way to finance this.”

The dreamed-of facilities for the Braves, which the club wants to build in John Prince Park, just west of Lake Worth, could cost up to $100 million.

Commissioners Shelley Vana, Priscilla Taylor and Melissa McKinlay also sounded receptive to the idea, after meeting with the team’s President John Schuerholz and Chairman Terry McGuirk. “It’s an amazing opportunity to have a really popular team with a really great following,” Vana said.

Vana also acknowledged that the project would be “a heavy-duty lift.”

You think? County officials,  working with the Palm Beach County Schools, are going to have a tough enough time this year persuading residents to boost the sales tax to 7 cents from 6 cents for 10 years. The case for the tax hike is an urgent need to keep up roads, bridges, vehicles and buildings that went to seed during the belt-tightening years of the recession. Now they’re going to argue that millionaire team owners need tourist-tax dollars, state money and possibly city contributions, too?

Less than a year ago, the commission earmarked $113 million for the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals. The clubs will be sharing the $144-million Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, now being built in West Palm Beach. The state also pledged $50 million for that facility. And the teams are pitching in with at least $67 million overall in annual installments over 30 years, plus cost overruns.

The county already is the spring home of the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals, which share Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter. Adding a fifth club, the popular Braves, would make Palm Beach County a cynosure of preseason baseball. No doubt, thousands of fans and countless media reports would follow.

The Braves , who trained in West Palm Beach from 1962 to 1997 before moving to Orlando, are also considering a move to Sarasota. But Taylor said, “They really want to come back.”

If the Braves are so eager, the commissioners ought to drive a hard bargain. Perhaps allow the team to lease land at the park at no cost, but put the construction costs on the team, being very careful about spending the people’s money.

Too many municipalities have been burned by professional sports teams that promised big economic benefits from stadiums that never materialized. Taxpayers should be wary of playing this game.