MVC will decide on Oak Bluffs harbor fuel
The Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) is expected to vote this evening on whether to grant a permit for the town of Oak Bluffs to begin offering fuel for sale from portable tanks located near the harbormaster's shack.
Since the harbor opened for the season on Memorial Day weekend, no fuel has been available for recreational boaters or commercial fishermen. Concerned about the effect of the lack of fuel on nearly $1 million in revenue the town earns from the harbor, the town has moved to establish its own fuel operation. Local businessman Mark Wallace, who operated the only fuel outlet on the harbor last year, has not yet begun operation this year. Safety repairs and fire inspections must be completed before the pumps, located on Church's Pier, can open for business. Further complicating the picture is a financial and legal dispute involving Mr. Wallace and Ralph Packer, a Vineyard Haven businessman who once supplied fuel to Mr. Wallace.
Last Thursday, the MVC conducted a public hearing on the town's proposal. Town administrator Michael Dutton told the commission that Oak Bluffs is facing a $500,000 budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year, and some of that is because he anticipates less revenue from visiting boaters.
"We could see a reduction in revenue in a harbor our size, just because of the lack of fuel," said Mr. Dutton. "We are not looking to supplant private enterprise, but in this case, the harbor is such a critical component in the overall revenue scheme." He said the plan was a temporary measure, but that the town may seek a permanent fuel facility if there is no reliable source of fuel on the harbor after next summer.
Mr. Wallace and Mr. Packer both attended the hearing. Mr. Wallace assured commissioners that he would be offering fuel this summer. Mr. Packer said he would be willing to suspend part of his legal and financial dispute with Mr. Wallace in order to allow fuel sales from Church's Pier.
Several commissioners asked what might happen to the temporary fuel tanks
if a catastrophic hurricane struck the Island. Mr. Dutton said the fuel could be quickly pumped into a tanker truck and the tanks themselves could be hauled by truck to a safer place in the event of a hurricane.
Commissioner Chris Murphy of Chilmark noted that part of the MVC's purpose is to promote and enhance sound local economies. "I worry that you're usurping a private business," he said.
Mr. Dutton responded that the town has obligations to all commercial establishments located on the harbor. "As much as the town is looking to protect its revenue stream, another interest is preserving the business that comes into those local businesses," said Mr. Dutton.
Doug Abdelnour Jr., manager of Nancy's, a restaurant and bar that overlooks the harbor, said limited fuel availability has already affected local business. "We had a lot of unhappy customers last year that couldn't get fuel, didn't want to come in," he said. "To have a couple of tanks, just in case, doesn't seem like a bad idea."