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Nor'easter could worsen grief at the pump

Jerry Primus uses cans that once held lacquer

Jerry Primus uses cans that once held lacquer to carry gas from the Gulf Station in Centereach to his home to power his generator. (Nov. 6, 2012) Credit: Heather Walsh

Though millions of gallons of gasoline are arriving daily on Long Island, it's anyone's guess how quickly motorists will see any speeding of delivery at the pump -- and the coming nor'easter could worsen things, the governor said.

"In terms of gasoline, the general sense is that it's getting somewhat better," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at a Tuesday morning news conference in Manhattan.

"The fuel delivery system is coming back online slowly. What has compounded the problem has been panic buying," Cuomo said. "We're now buying more fuel than we would normally be buying."

And, talking about the coming nor'easter and its possible severity, Cuomo said, "It could complicate the fuel situation." The storm is predicted to hit early Wednesday.

Now that gasoline barges are arriving each day on Long Island, tanker trucks are facing delays as they work to deliver fuel to empty pumps at service stations, forcing motorists to continue waiting at pumps.

At supply terminals in Inwood and Holtsville, delivery trucks wait in lines for up to three hours to fill their tanks, according to drivers and tanker company executives. When they arrive at service stations, they wait for up to 90 minutes for the crowd of gas-hungry motorists to clear a path.

"There is plenty of supply out there, it's just a matter of time to get it into the market," said Brian Fioretti, a vice president of Island Transportation Corp., which delivers gasoline on Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut. "You've got to get people off the hysteria."

During normal times, Fioretti said his drivers are able to deliver four loads of gasoline during their 10-hour shifts. Now they are working 14 hours shifts, but are only managing two deliveries because of delays at the terminals and service stations.

"There is no gas shortage," Fioretti said. "Now it's a distribution issue."

Much of Long Island's gas arrives via barge from New Jersey and elsewhere, is unloaded at Port Jefferson and Inwood, then stored at terminals before being trucked to service stations. The supply dried up after the storm, as pipelines, refineries and terminals shut down. Gas stations lost power. Debris left New York Harbor impassable.

Now the harbor has reopened, millions of gallons of fuel are arriving daily at Port Jefferson, according to an executive with Northville Industries, which operates a terminal in Holtsville. But it will take time for the incoming supply to catch up with the wild demand, said the executive, who declined to give a name.

The wait is frustrating for motorists and station owners alike.

"Things are not getting better. We are just not getting deliveries," said Stephen Keshtgar, who operates about 50 stations on Long Island and in Queens. All have electricity, but as of 1 p.m. Monday, only two had gas, he said.

Evidence of the shortage remained stark Monday in Deer Park, where lines of cars snaked in different directions from two stations at the corner of Deer Park Avenue and Grand Boulevard. The wait on one line was an hour; on the other it was 30 minutes. Those lines were shorter, motorists said, than those of several days ago.

"I think it's already better," said John Minetti, 31, of Deer Park, as he waited for an open pump at one of the stations.

Still, nerves at service stations continued to wear thin. In East Setauket, a teenager was arrested Monday, accused of threatening an attendant with a folding knife because the station was out of high-octane fuel, police said. Jared Giacolone, 17, faces charges of menacing and criminal possession of a weapon, police said.

Despite the shortage, the average price of regular gas on Long Island was $4.068 a gallon Tuesday -- up nearly 3 cents from Monday, but down nearly 7 cents from a month ago, AAA said.

In response to "hundreds of complaints," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced an investigation into storm-related price gouging.

In Ronkonkoma, Suffolk County police charged a fuel company owner with setting up shop in a parking lot and selling gas out of a delivery truck for $4.80 a gallon. Robert Faulkner, of Direct Marine Fuel Corp., was ticketed, accused of handling flammable liquids without a permit and improperly dispensing flammable liquids. He denied he was breaking any law, saying his permits allow him to distribute fuel.

With William Murphy

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