ANCHORAGE — The residents of Nome could be looking at a very costly winter: $9-a-gallon gasoline.
The coastal city of more than 3,500 residents that is known for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is iced-in, and a massive winter storm this month prevented a barge that usually carries fuel from getting to shore.
The most likely plan is to fly it in, but it would be costly and could be a logistical nightmare.
“It could be pretty outrageous, the prices,” said Jeremy Nassuk, Nome airport fueler for Crowley Marine Services, Inc.
A gallon of gas was selling for $5.98 and jet fuel $6.77 a gallon on Wednesday. The next barge delivery wouldn’t be until next June. In the meantime, flying fuel to the city could increase the cost per gallon by $3 to $4, officials said.
“We are going to have to have fuel drivers picking up fuel 24 hours a day as flights are available to fly into Nome,” said Jason Evans, board chairman of Sitnasuak Native Corp., which provides services to the region.
Sitnasuak arranged in May with petroleum distributor Delta Western Inc. to have three barges deliver fuel to Nome, but only one arrived early in the summer, Evans said. That barge carried home heating fuel.
The storm that barreled into Alaska’s western coastline in mid-November, zeroing in on Nome, prevented the arrival of a barge carrying 1.6-million gallons of gasoline and diesel.
“Ice is forming around the community and making a normal barge delivery impossible at this time,” Evans said.
Delta Western has canvassed the nation looking for ice breakers and ice-class tugs and barges to get fuel to Nome, but so far has had no success, vice president Kirk Payne said.
The good news is that the city is not in dire straits of running out of fuel, he said.
“We got some time to work through this,” he said. “Can product be flown up? Yes, absolutely. What is it going to cost? We don’t know. Is the public going to see that cost? We don’t know.”
Gasoline and diesel are needed to run the ambulances and state equipment to maintain and plow roads, Evans said. If nothing is done, gasoline and diesel supplies will run low within three months, he said.
The plan is to have fuel delivered 4,000 to 6,000 gallons at a time by prop plane or jet, beginning before the end of the year. Sitnasuak is looking at a pared-down delivery plan of perhaps a half-million gallons, he said.
That amount could increase if it turns out to be a cold winter, and so far it looks that way.
“It has been cold up there,” Evans said. The temperature at 10 a.m. Wednesday was minus 2.
A lot of people in the old Gold Rush-era town, where bars are housed in Western-style false-front wooden buildings and where temperatures can plummet to 30 below zero, don’t own cars and rely on taxis to get around.
From one end of town to the other is about 5 miles, said Sunny Song, owner of Mr. Cab, which ferries children to school, nurses to their patients’ homes and women to hospitals to give birth.
Mr. Cab now charges $4 per fare. Song said a big rise in gasoline prices will put them out of business.
“It is going to kill us,” she said.
But Polar Bar owner Patrick Krier isn’t worried.
“People will still go out and have a few drinks,” he said. “That is inevitable.”