R.M. Packer Co. to dismantle derelict fuel storage tanks

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Moldering petroleum tanks at the R.M. Packer Terminal in Vineyard Haven are slated to be razed this winter. — Rich Saltzberg

Those landmark fuel tanks on the rim of Vineyard Haven Harbor are slated to disappear in the coming months.

Two 100,000-gallon fuel storage tanks at the R.M. Packer Marine Terminal will be dismantled this winter, owner Ralph Packer told the Times. The tanks were essential to maintain capacity when his company received coastal tanker shipments in two-week intervals, he said, but now that the company operates its own fuel barge, the double-hulled Meropa 900, the turnaround time is 24 hours or less, and the tanks are unneeded, Mr. Packer said.

Mr. Packer described the tanks as “deteriorated.” He said they are clean and certified as petroleum-free. He speculated the tanks weigh 50 tons apiece. SeaTech of New Bedford will demolish the tanks, he said. He expects they will use an excavator with hydraulic shears to cut off the tops of the tanks, and then scissor away the walls in pieces.

SeaTech owner Sherman Smith said he and Mr. Packer have known each other for many years, and own adjacent facilities in New Bedford, north of the New Bedford–Fairhaven Bridge. They’re just beginning to arrange the demolition, he said. Because the thickness of the tanks’ walls aren’t uniform — he believes they’re thicker at the bottom and thinner at the top — Mr. Smith said they probably only weigh 30 or 40 tons, and he may opt to crane them whole onto barges and cut them apart with torches later. Whether they are cut apart onsite or pulled out, only four people are needed for the task, Mr. Smith said.

Many years ago, SeaTech took down old Campbell Oil Co. storage tanks for R.M. Packer Co. at what is now Tisbury Wharf Co., Mr. Packer said. He pointed out that his company’s fuel barge business is thriving. In addition to delivering to Nantucket, the company recently entered into an agreement to fuel NOAA and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution vessels in Woods Hole, including Atlantis, Neil Armstrong, and Henry Bigelow.

Two smaller 20,000-gallon tanks that are alongside the bigger ones are also on deck for elimination. They won’t be removed until the 100,000-gallon tanks are taken down, Mr. Packer said. No date has been set for the work to begin.