Roberts on gas: ‘We can do better'

Jennifer Roberts, Mecklenburg County commissioners chairman, said Wednesday that local leaders should have done more to address the region's worst gas crisis since the 1970s.

“I am not willing to sit back and just say, well, it was caused by shortages, and we just have to wait,” Roberts wrote in an e-mail to Charlotte City Manager Curt Walton. “I think we can do better.”

Roberts' words came a day after Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory said his role in the situation was to provide up-to-date information.

McCrory, a Republican running for governor, has been criticized by residents who think he has done too little to help the region deal with the problem.

On Wednesday, he again defended his tactics, saying he worked overtime communicating with the media, making sure city services were maintained and ordering police to keep the peace around gas stations.

McCrory also defended his decision to not order gas rationing. He said it was not clear that he had the power to do it and he was not sure it would help.

According to AAA, the Charlotte area is still dealing with a drastic gas shortage. About 70 gas tankers, some of them from as far away as Indianapolis, rushed into the area in the past few days. Even with those additions, officials still estimate that only 20 percent of gas stations were operational Wednesday.

“Everyone is waiting for this wave of gas, and so far it has just been a daily trickle,” said Tom Crosby, AAA spokesman.

The U.S. Department of Energy issued a news release Wednesday that praised McCrory for staying in touch with it throughout the crisis. A spokesman credited the mayor with helping DOE coordinate efforts to get gas to the region.

State and local leaders agree that Charlotte has experienced more than its fair share of gas problems. In fact, Western North Carolina has been one of the worst-hit areas in the Southeast.

The problem, Roberts said, led her to consider options such as rationing. She said she heard from several town managers who were also interested. She said McCrory was clearly against the idea.

On Wednesday, Roberts said she did not want to point fingers, but she said that as leaders their job is to do more than relay information. And she said the question now is what can be done to make sure the region is never hit this hard again.

“From here on out, that should be our priority,” Roberts said. “That is our responsibility.”

Alan Hirsch, Gov. Mike Easley's policy director, said figuring out what went wrong with the gas supply is one of the governor's top priorities.

He said that one problem is already known: Gas companies were focused only on their piece of the puzzle and no one was in charge of seeing the big picture – namely, making sure that gas didn't make it only to the state, but also made it to every part of the state.

“They were looking at computer models and no one was watching what was happening on the ground,” Hirsch said.

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