Updated September 6, 2018
Chilmark harbormaster Dennis Jason and Menemsha Texaco owner Marshall Carroll squared off Tuesday night before the board of selectmen over who has authority to direct boat traffic to the fuel dock operated by the Texaco station, but owned by the town.
Carroll was summoned by the board to address four instances over the 2018 season when fuel dock attendants allegedly refused to pump fresh water to boats or required the purchase of fuel as a condition of receiving water. Carroll denied refusing water to boaters or providing it conditionally, but pointed out state fire regulations prohibit vessels from coming to a fuel dock for anything but fuel. For safety reasons, among others, he said the fuel dock attendant and not the harbormaster should control vessel traffic to the fuel dock. Jason, harbor advisory committee chairman Everett Poole, and selectmen chairman Jim Malkin, the board’s harbor liaison, disagreed.
Malkin read into the record two of five harbor expectations relative to the fuel dock.
“Item one says the harbormaster is in charge of the harbor,” he said. “His word, and that of his deputies, is not disputable. No. 2: Menemsha Texaco, in conducting its business on the town’s dock, is required to allow the use of the town’s dock for non-commercial purposes such as touch and go, taking on water, pump out, etc.”
Malkin said Carroll provided the selectmen’s office with a copy of fire regulations that stipulate “no boats may be berthed or affixed to fuel docks.” Subsequently, Malkin said, the harbormaster contacted the state fire marshal and was told “in small harbors in Massachusetts it is common to work around that issue and allow boats to approach fuel docks and take on water, not berth there, but to take on water without getting fuel.”
Poole said in the town of Chatham, vessels can fuel on one side and unload fish on the other side. “And they take on water at the same time, sometimes in front of the gas pumps, sometimes in front of the fish-unloading zone,” he said. “It’s all on one town-owned finger pier just like we have in Menemsha, only it’s longer. This is true in most all of the small harbors in Massachusetts. And the fire marshal has never written that into his regulations. But he takes that under consideration whenever the subject comes up, and so far he has always said you can do multiple tasks there as long as it’s properly watched.”
Mike Ryder, wharfinger in charge of the Chatham Municipal Fish Pier, described the setup there a bit differently. Ryder said fish is offloaded into a building shared by two packing companies on a filled bulkhead. Fuel is dispensed in the middle of the bulkhead. The pumps are operated by a private entity. He said the building and the gas pumps are close to each other, so close he suspects the setup is a grandfathered situation.
“This is mainly a commercial fishing pier, and you have to have a permit to unload fish here,” he said. “We don’t cater to yachts, mainly because most of them don’t want to come over the bar to get here.”
The pier offers no pumpouts, and sees few sailboats or motor yachts. However, two concrete floats, situated to the north and south, serve such craft if they want to take on water or come up on the pier to get ice.
“I also spoke to the fire marshal,” Jason said. “I asked him, Is it proper? And as Everett stated, he said that it’s a problem in Massachusetts because the harbors are small and everybody’s getting crunched for space. And it’s not uncommon to have a fuel dock have multiple uses provided that it follows the code — no open flames, no cooking things, no engines running, or anything like that. It’s not uncommon in Massachusetts.”
In an interview with The Times Wednesday afternoon, state Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey said he has never spoken to Jason.
Ostroskey said while not familiar with the setup at Menemsha Texaco, he recently reviewed aerial photographs of the location.
“It’s really tight down there,” he said. “There’s not much space to do much of anything.”
Asked if combination activity was common at Massachusetts fuel docks, Ostroskey said, “Generally speaking, typically we do not see that kind of activity so close to fueling operations. I think it’s safe to say fueling operations need to be separated from other activities.”
State fire compliance Officer Matt Murray said he was in Menemsha earlier in the year, and inspected the Menemsha Texaco fuel dock with a colleague. The dock passed, he said. “He certainly takes his responsibility seriously,” he said of Carroll.
As he was leaving the inspection, Murray said, the harbormaster came to him in the parking lot and asked a few questions.
“It’s unsafe, essentially, if you’re leaving it up to the harbor department, who’s not trained in fuel administration processes,” said Menemsha Texaco staffer Bradley Carroll, Marshall Carroll’s daughter. “If you have a boat on the other side just getting water, that could be conducting business that could be dangerous if somebody on the other side of the dock is filling a boat with gas or diesel. So I think you’re opening a can of worms by saying any vessel can come to the fuel dock and just get water.”
“It sounds like they’re trying to make this like a Wild West show,” Jason said. “First of all, I’m a tankerman. I was a tankerman for Ralph Packer for 12 years. I’ve loaded and unloaded hundreds of thousands of gallons … I know the procedure for loading and unloading fuel, whether it be putting a hose in a boat, or setting up a manifold to take different products.”
Jason went on to say his department goes out of its way to not hamper commerce on the fuel dock, and to keep vessels taking on water within the bounds of safety by prohibiting open flames, cooking, and running engines.
Jason said in three out of the four incidents reported by his department, Carroll asked the mariners if they intended to purchase fuel. “That to me sounds like extortion,” Jason said. “If you want to get water or a pumpout, you have to take fuel.”
Marshall Carroll said permitting the harbormaster to send vessels to the fuel dock, with or without notice, does not make sense, and doesn’t adhere to code.
Carroll told the board it was “an honor and a privilege to run a business on Menemsha. Any criticism I get I try to use toward running my business better.” He went on to acknowledge he was a tenant of Chilmark Parks and Recreation Committee via a bulkhead lease, and retains his lease at the pleasure of the selectmen; however, he could not abide demands that run counter to state regulation: “You guys can ask what you want, but I feel bound to the state fire marshal who comes down and inspects me every year. Every year I pay thousands of dollar to get inspected and permitted to make sure everything is up to code.”
He added he could not fathom why the town would wish to “ignore” the fire marshal’s safety regulations when there are other locations in the harbor to get water.
Carroll said the fuel dock attendant should manage the coming and going of boats to the fuel dock.
“He is trained. He’s under my license. He’s under my workman’s comp. A boat comes to the dock, I can’t ignore the boat, boat comes to the dock you ask if they need fuel. Not once did I say you have to buy fuel to get water.”
After listening to commentary from former selectmen Riggs Parker and Jonathan Mayhew, among others, Malkin said it was imperative the reputation of the port not be damaged.
The board ultimately affirmed the three of the five recommendations from the Harbor Advisory Committee. In addition to the recommendations Malkin read aloud at the start of the meeting, item number three was written as follows:
“The harbormaster will use his good judgment and where practicable will communicate with Menemsha Texaco regarding any instructions or permissions he has given that involve usage of the Town’s dock.”
Carroll later told The Times he’s especially sensitive to fire regulations at his fuel dock because of a boat explosion that almost took his life. As The Times reported in September 1999, the New Jersey motor yacht Just Chillin’ exploded at the fuel dock, injuring many.
“The force of the explosion broke windows in the gas station and nearby vehicles, and showered the the surrounding area with debris and shards of glass,” the article states.
“They think the guy had taken a plug out of his tank when he was on a mooring in Edgartown and never put it back,” Carroll said. As a result, his boat filled with combustible vapor, he said.
The blast injured several people along the dock, hurled a woman into the water and broke several of her bones, tore open another woman’s leg necessitating an amputation, and left Carroll partially buried in debris with a concussion.
Carroll noted he wasn’t found liable at all, because he managed the dock properly, but the calamity still deeply affected him.
Wednesday evening, Malkin shared an email he sent Carroll outlining a conversation he had with the state Fire Marshal
“Marshall — I hope you respect the fact that the issues you raised got a full hearing at last night’s BOS meeting,” he wrote. “I want you to know that I took your issue regarding the [Massachusetts] fuel regulations seriously and spoke today with Peter Ostrosky, the Commonwealth of [Massachusetts] Fire Marshal.”
In the email, Malkin said the Ostrosky has “no issue with vessels coming alongside the Menemsha fuel dock to take on water as long as they are manned and are not left unattended or alongside the dock after watering.”
“I hope this clears the issue (and the air) around the several incidents this summer and we can move forward,” Malkin wrote.
The Times was not able to immediately verify the position of Fire Marshal Ostroskey with the state Fire Marshal’s office.
Marshall Carroll was not immediately available for comment.
Updated to correct the selectmen’s decision and to include new material.