Miracle in Edgartown – harbor fuel sales are on for holiday

Town officials said they expect the fuel dock to be in operation for the busy Memorial Day weekend.
Photo by Steve Myrick

Town officials said they expect the fuel dock to be in operation for the busy Memorial Day weekend.

Edgartown town administrator Pam Dolby said Wednesday that necessary repairs will be complete and fuel will be available for recreational boaters for the busy Memorial Day weekend.

“There will be fuel in Edgartown this weekend,” Ms. Dolby wrote in a statement emailed to the Times Wednesday afternoon. “Repairs are scheduled for today and tomorrow and the permits will be issued by Friday.”

Fire Chief Peter Shemeth also confirmed that fuel will be available on Friday at the facility at the foot of Morse Street.

Ralph M. Packer Jr., whose R. M. Packer Company operates the fuel facility at Edgartown Harbor, said work crews and electricians began work on the aging fuel system Wednesday.

“We’ve been given permission by the authorities,” Mr. Packer said. “The town of Edgartown requested of the fire

marshal if we could have thirty days. We’re gong to check out some more of the system tomorrow, and I’m sure we’re going to be operable by Friday morning.”

Harbor master Charlie Blair is skeptical that the repairs will be completed for the weekend, and he is concerned about the availability of fuel in June and even July.

“We won’t know until we see it,” Mr. Blair told the Edgartown marine advisory committee Wednesday afternoon. “This electrician has to be Harry Houdini. He has some work cut out for him.”

Massachusetts fire marshal Stephen Coan said he cannot issue a temporary use permit for the fuel facility, but he said that state regulators may be able to expedite an application to sell fuel if they are satisfied that necessary repairs and upgrades have been made. The final decision rests entirely with the state regulators, though they often work closely with town fire inspectors to determine whether a permit can be issued.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the fire marshal said he has received no application from R. M. Packer Company for the necessary permit to dispense fuel

Permit problems

On May 9, a compliance officer from the fire marshal’s office visited the Edgartown marine fuel station at the request of Chief Shemeth, according to the state fire marshal. After an informal survey of the equipment, the compliance officer told Chief Shemeth that the state would not issue the required permit to dispense fuel unless problems with fuel lines, emergency shutoff valves, and tank storage were corrected. The compliance officer told Mr. Packer of the issues the same day. No repairs were begun before selectmen called Mr. Packer to their regular meeting Monday for an explanation.

“The timing on this couldn’t be worse,” Mr. Blair said at Monday’s meeting. “This fuel dock has sat empty for 7.5 months, and nobody has touched the fuel service. Not having fuel means people are going to go to a gas station, fill jerry jugs, and try to dump them into their boats. Probably somebody is going to get burned to a crisp trying to do this.”

Mr. Blair told selectmen it would take a miracle to have fuel service available for Memorial Day, and he said his concern extends beyond the coming weekend.

“All the work we’ve done to promote our harbor, without fuel service, it’s just putting a nail in our coffin,” Mr. Blair said. “I’m fearing we won’t have fuel in June or July.”

Mr. Packer said he is concerned about safety and wants to install state-of-the-art equipment.

“The investment for our company is about $30,000,” Mr. Packer said. “It does take time and it does take money.”

Mr. Packer described the upgrades and new safety equipment he plans to install and described the current condition of the equipment.

“There are emergency shutoff valves,” Mr. Packer told selectmen. “You have to open up planks on the dock, reach down, and hope the handle hasn’t rusted off. We’re very concerned with gasoline on the water. Right now we have pipes that have been there about 10 years.”

Mr. Packer suggested the town contact the state fire marshal and arrange temporary permission to use the existing equipment, until repairs and upgrades are completed. That is the course of action the selectmen decided to take.

In a telephone interview with The Times on Tuesday, Mr. Coan said the state has no legal authority to grant such permission.

“There is nothing within our regulation that provides a temporary use,” Mr. Coan said. “He’s got to upgrade the facility and correct the deficiencies before we would process an application.”

Lease questions

Mr. Packer also wants to negotiate a new lease for the town property he uses to sell marine fuel. “I think what Ralph is leaning toward here is he wants part of the rent to go toward this expense,” Ms. Dolby said at Monday’s meeting.

For the past two years, R.M. Packer Company has operated the Edgartown marine fuel facility but paid no rental fees to the town, according to Mr. Blair and marine advisory committee chairman Gary Look.

When asked how the town finds itself in this situation, Margaret Serpa, chairman of the selectmen, told The Times Wednesday, “I wish I knew the answer to that, but I don’t. It’s something we’re going to have to ask.”

Mr. Look said his committee did not raise the issue with selectmen over the past several months because the selectmen knew of the problem.

“We obviously don’t like it,” Mr. Look said. “They haven’t paid rent for two years. The town should have had something in writing.”

Record of violations

The R. M. Packer Company has a long record of environmental violations, safety violations, and stiff fines, including violations at the Edgartown fuel dock.

In 2007, the state fire marshal cited the company for five violations at the Edgartown facility, including improper hoses and shut-off valves, and an invalid permit to sell fuel.

At the beginning of the summer season in 2008, no work had started to correct the violations. The town scrambled to get the fuel pumps operating, but they were not functional during the Memorial Day weekend that year.

In 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) settled a case with R. M. Packer Company for violating petroleum handling and storage regulations at its Vineyard Haven terminal. Mr. Packer agreed to pay a $200,000 fine and install equipment to control emissions.

In 2008, the EPA fined R.M. Packer Company $78,000 for violating the federal Clean Water Act and Oil Pollution Prevention regulations. The fine followed years of delays in correcting violations, according to a plan agreed to by Mr. Packer.

This week EPA officials traveled to Martha’s Vineyard to conduct a day-long review with Mr. Packer.