Oak Bluffs fire chief orders harbor gas pumps shut

The gas pumps on Church's Pier are closed by order of the fire chief. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

In the wake of a gasoline spill last week, on Monday Oak Bluffs fire chief Pete Forend ordered the marine fuel facility located at Church’s Pier on Oak Bluffs Harbor to shut down.

The order to close the fuel facility leaves the harbor with no gasoline available during the busiest part of the boating season.

Oak Bluffs firefighters, police, and members of the harbormaster’s department responded to Church’s Pier for a report of a gasoline spill in the harbor about 5 pm on July 4. No alarms sounded, but people in the area smelled gasoline, and then saw fuel pouring into the harbor.

Cleanup crews used chemical dispersants, a floating boom, and absorbent mats to contain the spill.

The spill left a strong odor of gasoline hanging over the area. Police cordoned off the sidewalk in front of Nancy’s snack bar but did not ask people to leave the area. Police did ask boaters not to start their engines while the cleanup took place.

“The line that failed on the tanks was an older style line,” Oak Bluffs fire chief Pete Forend said in a telephone call Monday. “They’re not compatible with new fuels, with ethanol.”

Mr. Forend said before the facility can reopen, those fuel lines must be replaced, alarms installed to warn of any future spills, and the facility must be reinspected.

In reports to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), local officials said about 15 gallons of fuel spilled into the harbor after a pipe that supplies a gas pump at the end of Church’s Pier ruptured.

DEP issued a “notice of responsibility” to Marmik LLC, the corporation operated by businessmen Mark and Mike Wallace, who run the marine fuel facility. That notice starts the clock on the clean-up effort, which must be completed within one year. Oak Bluffs officials said the cleanup is already complete.

Mark Wallace could not be reached for comment on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Fuel factor

With no fuel available in the harbor, some local mariners will be inconvenienced.

“We could make it through the season,” harbormaster Todd Alexander said. “It really hurts the local guys, that just want to go fishing. The bigger boats (from off Island) can fuel up before they leave, they know the prices are high here anyway. It doesn’t really stop people from coming here.”

Mr. Alexander said the lack of gasoline may be a concern for competitors in the Monster Shark Tournament, scheduled for July 19–21, who may need to refuel after each day’s fishing.

Diesel fuel is available from a truck that dispenses fuel for fishing vessels and other boats. Gasoline is also available in Edgartown and Vineyard Haven harbors.

Because of dissatisfaction about the availability of fuel from commercial vendors, Oak Bluffs is in the process of establishing a town-owned fuel facility. The town received approval from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) to build a temporary facility in 2009.

After putting the project on hold, town officials moved forward with the project again this year. The town received two bids in response to a request for proposals last month. Mr. Alexander does not expect the town-owned facility to be ready for operation this summer, but he is hopeful it will be ready for the beginning of next year’s boating season.