Harbor fuel dispute prompts Oak Bluffs plan to sell fuel
A financial dispute involving the only marine fuel retailer in Oak Bluffs left the busy harbor without fuel for the Memorial Day weekend. Concerned about a potential loss of revenue if boaters avoid Oak Bluffs Harbor because of uncertainty over fuel availability, the town is moving quickly to establish a temporary fuel pumping facility near the harbormaster's office.
Harbormaster Todd Alexander said doubts about the fuel situation are already having an effect. "It did last year," he said. "It's too early to say this year. Once the word is out that there's no fuel, we're afraid that's going to start changing the pattern. It doesn't take long. We're a marina. We have everything a marina is supposed to have, and fuel is on the top of the list. It's not an option, it's not a luxury, it's a necessity."
Oak Bluffs realizes a great deal of money from the town-owned marina. Last year, the total revenue was $992,978. Of that total, 93 percent came from seasonal and transient rental of slips and moorings.
"It's not as much a question of getting the town into the fuel business," said town manager Michael Dutton, "as it is protecting the town's interest in revenue generated by the harbor."
David Pothier, chairman of the harbor management committee, said the town received a lot of complaints about fuel service last summer. "They can't get fuel, they can't get water," he said. "The last couple of years, fuel in the harbor has been spotty at best. I've been taking my boat to Falmouth for fuel. I'd rather buy locally."
Mark Wallace, who owns Jim's Package Store and the automobile fuel station at 27 Lake Avenue, provided fuel for boaters last year from Church's Pier on the harbor. He disputes the charge of town officials that there were problems with the availability of fuel, and says he intends to have fuel readily available this summer. "It's not in their best interests to say I'm doing a great job," he said.
Mr. Wallace said that the marine fuel operation is not profitable enough to have an attendant stationed at the fuel dock, but boaters can contact his staff at the nearby automobile fuel station by phone or marine radio to request service. "They're one minute away," he said.
Mr. Wallace said fuel has been available to boaters when his gas station is open, from 7:30 am to 6 pm, seven days per week during the summer season. He added that he expects to open for the season next week. Fire chief Pete Forend said Wednesday he does not yet have a permit application from Mr. Wallace to dispense fuel, but expects one soon. A safety inspection of the fuel facility will be required before the town issues a permit.