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Monday, April 21, 2014

Spike in prices of Rota foods, other goods
Temporary hike of 10 pct. to 50 pct. on some items

With barges’ entry to Rota West Harbor postponed anew yesterday due to bad sea conditions, prices of some basic commodities on Rota have gone up by 10 percent to almost 50 percent in the last few weeks since businesses have started bringing in goods via a much costlier means, air transportation. A 50-lb. sack of rice in one major Rota store, for example, has gone up from $37 to $55, a 49-percent increase.

But Rota Mayor Melchor Mendiola and businesses interviewed yesterday said the spike in prices is only “temporary” or only until Rota starts receiving the shipments of goods via barges.

Rota last received sea shipment in November because bad weather conditions have since made it dangerous for barges to enter West Harbor.

Acting governor Jude U. Hofschneider opened East Harbor on Saturday for the 30-day duration of the Feb. 14 state of emergency declaration for Rota. But owners of sea vessels are still working with local and federal agencies to be able to use East Harbor, officials said yesterday.

“We know that our customers understand that because we are bringing some of the goods we sell via air now, the freight cost is much more expensive and that means they are going to see price increases. It is 50 cents per pound to bring items via air,” Lucky Store accountant Angel Pagalpalan told Saipan Tribune.

The items are brought in from Saipan and Guam.

She said Lucky Store, one of the major retailers on Rota, still has some other basic commodities on its shelves but some of them are being sold at a higher price because of added freight cost.

Pagalpalan said a 50-lb. sack of rice that used to retail for $37 now costs $55 because of the 50-cent per pound air freight cost.

“$25 of that $55 is only for freight cost. The other items, we tried to maintain the old prices if we can but the others, we really have to pass on to customers because they are expensive to bring in,” she added.

Some other items in their store whose prices have gone up include cooking oil, sugar, and milk.

At Harvest Market in Songsong, also a major retailer on Rota, a 1-quart milk that used to sell for $2.99 now costs $4.05 because of the air freight rate, said Harvest Market purchaser Esperanza Castro.

Castro also cited as an example a 5-lb. flour that used to retail for $5.99 and has now gone up to $7.99.

“We got an email Monday night that the Tuesday schedule for the barge to come in is postponed again because of the weather. They are looking at Saturday again but that’s still not for sure,” Castro said.

Harvest Market, however, still has some basic commodities in stock from last year so they haven’t changed prices such as rice.

At Anne’s Convenient Store, a store employee said yesterday that they have already run out of rice, butane gas, and cooking oil, among other items, as early as January.

The Rota mayor said the island is nearing the point wherein residents will be asked to boil their water for health reasons as the chlorine supply used for water treatment “is low.” He is hoping that chlorine supply can already reach Rota before it gets to that point.

Mendiola said Rota has also run out of propane gas, which would make it harder to boil water if needed, unless residents use electric stove or firewood.

“There would be more problems, health and safety problems, if the situation does not change,” he added.

The acting governor said he’s receiving regular updates on what’s happening on Rota, including the low supply of chlorine for water treatment and liquefied petroleum gas or LPG.

Besides opening East Harbor on Saturday, the acting governor also waived port fees to all vessels entering Rota to deliver essential goods to the island during this time of shortage of some necessary commodities.

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