Boaters can again buy fuel in the Oak Bluffs harbor after the gas station owned by businessmen Mark and Mike Wallace at Church’s Pier reopened last week, just in time for the Fourth of July weekend. Meanwhile, a town-sponsored proposal to build a new station near the Island Queen dock has been put on hold, at least for the time being.
Oak Bluffs harbor master Todd Alexander said the town plan has been tabled, largely because the station owned by the Wallaces is back in operation. The plan was approved by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission last month as a development of regional impact (DRI), and was slated to go before the town conservation commission on Tuesday.
But that meeting was postponed after town officials learned the gas station owned by the Wallaces was back in business.
The town applied for the new pumping station after a series of lawsuits between Ralph Packer, owner of R.M. Packer Co., and the Wallaces threatened to shut down fuel service for boaters this summer. The Wallaces currently lease the tanks and pumps from Mr. Packer, but the two are locked in legal battles stemming from a fuel delivery mishap in July of 2007.
During that incident, a delivery truck for R.M. Packer allegedly connected to one of the Wallaces fuel tanks beneath the Sand Bar and Grill that was already filled to capacity. Pressure in the tank built up and a safety valve at the top of the tank blew, spilling nearly 600 gallons of diesel fuel.
Mark Wallace blamed R.M. Packer for the mishap and Mr. Packer put the blame on Mr. Wallace because a warning system in the tank failed to alert the delivery man. Last June Mr. Packer sent a letter to Mr. Wallace stating that because of the mishap, his insurance company had barred him from delivering fuel to the station at Church’s Pier.
Since then, Mr. Packer has initiated further legal action against Mr. Wallace and has attempted to evict him from Church’s Pier. But in June Mr. Packer agreed to allow fuel sales on the harbor while the dispute was being resolved.
Oak Bluffs town administrator Michael Dutton said Mr. Wallace has agreed to have someone on duty on the pier during established hours of operation to provide more consistent gas service for boaters. Last summer there were frequent complaints about inconsistent fuel service on the harbor.
Mr. Dutton said the town is still working to acquire the necessary permits for the new gas dock just in case the legal dispute between the Wallaces and Mr. Packer shuts down the Church’s Pier operation. But he said town officials are happy to have a private enterprise provide fuel to boaters.
“We’ve said all along if we have reliable service on the harbor we will not be trying to compete with that. We have never viewed this as a competition with Mr. Wallace. We simply wanted reliable fuel service on the harbor this summer . . . that was the priority all along,” Mr. Dutton said.