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Fluctuation at the pumps all relative

Gas prices continue to be an ongoing topic of conversation with the continual fluctuation at the pumps. This morning's price per gallon at all West Fargo stations is down to $3.07 a gallon for regular unleaded, a marked drop from the $3.29 of two weeks ago.

It's down right demoralizing when $3 a gallon is starting to look good, considering state average prices were below the $2.28 mark last October, and in January of this year, the national average even a little bit lower than that. How quickly we forget.

The good news is that if the current trend in gasoline usage remains consistent, the prices could drop to the $2.79 to $2.99 range again in the next two to three weeks time, this information from a local gas station entrepreneur definitely in the know.

People in this area are used to paying the lowest prices in the country, with gasoline rates normally 10 to 15 cents lower than the national average.

Consequently, it did come as quite a shock when the recent short-lived spike saw gas prices in the entire Midwest corridor, including our community, the highest of any place in the entire country. The cause temporary, but legitimate - a problem at one of the large oil refineries in Texas which has since been resolved.

With gas prices driven by supply and demand, what will happen once the 4th of July holiday approaches is anybody's guess.

For the record, the gas station owner we talked to said he hopes prices continue to drop at the pumps because it will mean lower credit card fees, since a majority of his patrons pay with plastic.

AAA's statements also support the supply and demand consensus, saying the recent drop in prices has been 'fueled' by the diminished need now that Memorial Day travel is over. On May 31, the current average of $3.31 in North Dakota was about 7 cents below the state's record high also set May 24. The price of oil was also lower than it was the previous week, trading near $64 per barrel rather than near $66 as it was in the pre-Memorial Day period.

Price increases involving lodging and eating out are almost as frustrating as the gas situation, given the fact that summer vacation season is upon us. Travelers won't see any relief here either, with average combined lodging and restaurant costs up 3.7 percent over last year, according to AAA's Annual Vacation Costs survey. The survey also indicates vacationers looking to get the most for their vacation dollar can head to North Dakota and other Midwestern states. AAA's survey shows that a family of two adults and two children can expect to pay an average $269 per day for food and lodging. Lodging rates will average $152 a night, up nearly 7.9 percent from last year. Meals will cost $118, down 1.3 percent from 2006. The most expensive state for vacationers remains Hawaii, where the daily cost of food and lodging for a family of four will average $650 per day. Other destinations with a high average daily cost include the District of Columbia at $611; Rhode Island, $345; New York, $326; and New Jersey, $324. Travelers looking for bargains can head to: North Dakota, with an average daily cost of $187; Nebraska, $199; Iowa, $201; Kansas, $201; and South Dakota, $204. AAA has been tracking vacation costs since 1950, when the average daily cost of meals and lodgings for a family of four was $13.