The cost of a gallon of gas in Maine is closing in on what you have to shell out for a pound of lobster: right around $4.

The average retail price for gasoline in the state has hit $3.88 per gallon for unleaded regular — the highest price Maine has ever experienced for Labor Day weekend, according to Greg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst for the price-monitoring website GasBuddy.com.

Record catches have pushed lobster prices to their lowest level in years.

Gas prices, on the other hand, might continue to rise for a slew of reasons. Hurricane Isaac and its aftermath, California supply problems, a broken pipeline in Wisconsin, lower capacity levels at work in East Coast refineries — all play a part.

But what they don’t necessarily show are a couple of equally significant forces: the human appetite for travel and consumer confidence.

The rising cost of gas has not had a dampening effect on tourism travel, said Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Tourism in Augusta. According to AAA, more than 33 million people were expected to travel this weekend between Thursday and Labor Day.

“That is good news,” she said. Even with the sluggish economy, she said, consumer confidence is growing stronger.

The recent gas price increase “hasn’t had an effect on us,” said Bud Harmon, a motel owner and president of the Old Orchard Beach Chamber of Commerce. “To tell you the truth, I hadn’t even noticed.”

That attitude jibed with the mood of drivers at gas stations around Portland on Friday. Some motorists were resigned to the upswing, but most seemed unperturbed by the price, which ranged from $3.86 for regular to $4.15 for premium. Mid-range fuel prices settled in at just about $4 — pretty much matching the cost of a pound of lobster.

The lowest price for regular gas in the state was $3.69 at Holly’s in Arundel, and the highest, $4.08, showed up at Dead River in St. Agatha.

Dylan McIntyre of West Falmouth was on his way to work in his 20-year-old BMW, when he stopped at the pumps at the 7-11 at Congress and Dow streets. A chef in the food court at the Maine Mall, McIntyre — about the same age as his car — said he was taking the price increase in stride.

“I’m not too worried,” he said, shrugging off the sometimes-up, sometimes-down swing of gas expenses. His car gets pretty abominable mileage, he acknowledged — “on a bad day 8, on a good day 12” — but he doesn’t see 2 cents more a gallon as a big deal.

“It’ll go higher,” he predicted.

The price at the pump did give pause to Don Mairs of Portland. He makes frequent trips to New Hampshire, where his daughter lives, and to Boston, where he regularly checks on his 94-year-old mother.

The price of gas is a consideration in the visits, but it is definitely not the deciding factor.

“It’s more expensive, that’s for sure,” he said, while filling his tank at a Mobil station on Congress Street. “It makes you think about where you’re going.” Even so, he was off on a weekend trip to New Hampshire with his wife, Linda, for their 40th anniversary celebration.

That’s exactly how Harmon, the motel owner and chamber president, predicted things will go. An extra $10 or $20 for gas was not, he said, going to make visitors coming to Maine or residents heading to other parts of New England change their plans. Or stay home.

“We’re going to have a very, very strong weekend,” he said.

He was right on the money as far as Montreal residents Sebastian Desgagues and Andrea Moraga were concerned. They were making the round trip for a Built to Spill concert at the State Theatre on Thursday, leaving Friday, and heading the right direction, north, from which tourists would be fleeing. The couple gassed up at a Gulf station just off Route 295 at Congress Street and Massachusetts Avevue.

“For us it’s cheap,” Desgagues said. Gasoline was running about $6 a gallon in Canada, he said.

Still, $3.85 was not the definition of cheap for Paul Hokinson, a heating contractor, also filling up his personal ride. “There it is,” he said, pointing at the pump: $71.10. Bad maybe, but it could be worse, he said. His Ford work van costs $100 to fill.

Some of the motorists interviewed at random stations around town echoed industry analysts in blaming Tropical Storm Isaac in the Gulf of Mexico for the sudden surge in prices. Oil industry analysts have said damage to refineries could drive up prices further.

“You have to do it,” said Sean Byrnes of Portland, a receivables specialist — that’s collections — for Wright Express just down the street from the station. Back to work, “$61 later,” he said, sardonically.

Gasoline costs are particularly vulnerable to short-term increases at this time of year, and prices were on the rise even before Isaac swept in. The average price for gas in the nation rose about 40 cents from July 1 to mid-August.

But “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Laskoski said. Based on pricing data, in 10 of the last 11 years, “the price at the pump was lower on Monday (Labor Day) than on the previous Friday.” 

Staff Writer North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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