$2.99 gas in Pasco causes trouble for traffic, store owner

By Joe Chapman, Herald staff writerOctober 17, 2008 

PASCO -- Who'd have thought there'd be a downside to cheaper gas?

There appears to be one at Mid-Columbia Grocery in Pasco, where the traffic created by Shyan Din's relatively low gas prices has him in trouble with Franklin County's code enforcement officer.

Din's store at 6409 W. Court St. on Thursday was selling regular gasoline for $2.99 per gallon. That's more than 30 cents cheaper than the average Tri-Cities price of $3.32 per gallon and one cent better than the average from a year ago, $3, according to AAA.com.

Word gets out about the price, and people will even drive over from Richland and Kennewick to fill up. In the process, traffic gets backed up onto Court Street and Road 64, causing a hazard, said Jerry Lingo, county code enforcement officer.

He said the drivers often become reckless, flipping each other off, having fistfights and getting into accidents. On Thursday, he saw one man parked in Court Street waving people past.

"Somebody's gonna get killed. All I'm trying to do is prevent that," Lingo said. "I have no desire to run him out of business, but he's got to be a responsible business owner."

The problem has existed for three years, Lingo said. Two years ago, Din and county officials met to address the situation.

Din agreed to about six steps to improve it, but he never completely carried them out, Lingo said.

He painted lanes on the parking lot pavement, but the paint washed away and he didn't redo them, Lingo said. Din didn't work to develop an overflow parking area across Road 64 like he was supposed to, Lingo said.

Din has an attendant to help direct traffic, but the person often isn't out there dealing with the problems as they occur, Lingo said. Din put up signage to encourage one-way traffic flow through the lot, but the signs didn't hold up.

The only step Din fully complied with was to put longer hoses on the pumps, Lingo said. With the longer hoses, cars don't have to turn around if they pull up to the pumps with their gas tanks on the wrong side, he said.

Din said he has made a good-faith effort, but that he's being unfairly targeted.

"I need the cooperation of the Franklin County, and they need my cooperation as well. Whatever they ask me, I follow up those," said Din, 58.

Lingo may have connections to other gas stations, Din theorized, and is pressuring him on their behalf because his gas prices are so much lower. Lingo said that's not the case.

"Code enforcement and business registration rules regulate that any business be responsible for the conduct it creates, including any public nuisances," Lingo said.

When Din's license is up for renewal at year's end, if the problems aren't corrected, his renewal application likely will go before the county commission for review, Lingo said. The county commission could choose not to renew the license.

Din said he's being punished for lowering his gas prices, but he should be able to charge whatever he wants.

"I think it's my right. This is a free market, a free country," Din said. "But traffic controlling is not my job."

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