Gasoline price wars have broken out at the Poospatuck reservation in Mastic after a second large gas station and convenience store opened next door to an established one, driving prices below $2.18 a gallon amid an ongoing tribal land dispute.
The price drops follow rulings by a Riverhead court judge in August that lifted a temporary restraining order that had blocked Fast Gas and Smokes R Us from opening. The Unkechaug Nation last year filed suit against Smokes R Us owner Danielle Treadwell, saying the land on which she built the station belongs instead to her cousin Curtis Treadwell, and that the underground gas tanks are unsafe.
Judge David Reilly has yet to rule on the final land claim, but on Sept. 9 he also denied the tribe’s request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the station from opening. A manager at the Fast Gas station who declined to give his name said it’s been open for about two weeks. Hawkers outside the station were flagging down cars in the narrow main road of the 66-acre reservation Tuesday, offering a nickel discount on a gallon of regular that was already priced at $2.18.
The new gas station operates just yards away from the more established Montauk Native Gas owned by Unkechaug tribal member Andre Hardy, who is a cousin of Danielle Treadwell and whom she has sued over the land his station is built on. That case is also ongoing.
Business was considerably more brisk at Montauk Native Gas on Tuesday, despite the four street hawkers flagging cars to the new Fast Gas station.
Mike Lacy, a Shinnecock Indian Nation member who drives to Poospatuck from the Southampton reservation, said the pricing even before the price war made it worth the drive, but now it’s “definitely worth it to come here and fill up.” He was testing out Fast Gas after years of loyalty to Montauk Native Gas. “I just came here to see what their gas is like,” he said.
Laura Arena of Mastic Beach said she was flagged down by the Fast Gas hawkers but continued patronizing Montauk Native Gas, where she has filled up once or twice a week for years. “It’s going to be a crazy corner,” she said of the growing traffic.
Land for both stations is the subject of lawsuits by the Unkechaug Nation, which is seeking to have the Fast Gas station closed, and Smokes R Us owner Danielle Treadwell, who claims Hardy’s station is located partly on her land. The Unkechaug tribal council has previously denied Danielle Treadwell’s claim, saying the land rights belong to Curtis Treadwell.
The stations are located on state-recognized sovereign Indian land, and thus do not pay state sales tax. Widespread cigarette sales on the tribal land are also deeply discounted and also are untaxed. The Unkechaug gas station prices are the lowest on Long Island, according to website Gasbuddy.com, and near the lowest in the state considering the nickel discount, which Hardy also is offering to his VIP card holders.
Hardy acknowledged the price wars have had an impact on the profits of his gas business, despite the higher volume, but added, “I think it will be temporary.” He said he’s expecting the tribal council to move to shutter the new gas station, which Hardy and council members in their lawsuit said was unsafe because of underground tanks. Councilwoman Michelle Miller on Tuesday wouldn’t comment on the assertion.
The Fast Gas manager denied the tanks were unsafe, saying underground tanks had all manner of safety protections, and he charged Hardy’s aboveground tanks were the problem.
Linda Margolin, an attorney for Danielle Treadwell, said she knew of no reason the tribe would move to shutter the station. “We’re operating in accordance with the judge’s decision,” she said.
A few blocks away, a third Poospatuck gas station at the Flying Arrow smoke shop avoided the price wars, with regular gas priced at $2.49. Junius Langhorn, an attendant at the station, said sales have been “up and down” in the year since he started working at the location, but busier lately.