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LI gasoline supply system bolstered after superstorm Sandy

People line up hoping to get their gas

People line up hoping to get their gas containers filled at a BP Station on Hempstead Avenue after superstorm Sandy on Nov. 1, 2012. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Five years after Sandy exposed the vulnerabilities of Long Island’s gasoline supply, officials said the system is stronger, although dozens of gas stations have not complied with a state law that would prepare them for another power outage.

Superstorm Sandy flooded South Shore gasoline distribution terminals, closed New York Harbor, shut down pipelines and left gas stations powerless with useless pumps.

The result was weeks of snaking lines of Long Islanders waiting, often for hours, to fill their cars and gas cans.

Part of the state’s response was a law, passed in 2013, that required larger gas stations near highway exits or evacuation routes to get backup generators or install “transfer switches,” which would allow generators to be plugged in and power the stations in case of an outage. The state offered grants of up to $13,000 to comply with the order.

To date, 345 Long Island gasoline stations can now be connected to backup power in an emergency, according to the New York State Department of Energy Research and Development Agency, which oversees the FUEL-NY plan.

Another 84 gas stations on Long Island are out of compliance with the law, the agency said.

The state Department of Agriculture and Markets has begun issuing $1,600 fines to 50 stations across downstate New York that remain out of compliance after a series of escalating fines.

“When multiple outreach attempts are unsuccessful, the department will issue penalties to gas station owners who do not comply with Fuel-NY requirements, and will coordinate with the owners to provide them an additional opportunity to come into compliance,” said energy and research development spokesman William Opalka.

Officials say the system overall has been strengthened. There is a 2.5 million gallon gas reserve in Suffolk that could be tapped in the case of emergency, which the state touted as the first-in-the-nation such reserve. Additionally, a FEMA grant that New York received in 2017 will allow the state to place 109 generators on Long Island by the end of 2018. The state also conducted a survey of the storm readiness of the petroleum terminals.

“No one can dispute that New York is stronger in the face of extreme weather,” Opalka said.

Kevin Beyer, government affairs director of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association, said the transfer switches and generators are an improvement. But he said the longest term problem after Sandy was the gasoline supply. Flooded terminals near Inwood and Lawrence were shut down for more than a month in some cases.

Tanker trucks had to wait in line at the open terminals — such as the one in Holtsville, which receives gasoline through Port Jefferson Harbor — for hours.

“They couldn’t get the product. You had drivers waiting on line for hours at the terminals,” Beyer said. “Where tankers could normally do three trips a day, they could only do one.”

While more gas stations might be able to have power, the resiliency of the terminals remains to be seen. “I think we’re better off. But we haven’t had it tested yet,” he said.

Robert Sinclair, spokesman for AAA Northeast, said he also believed that the waterside terminals are the biggest question mark.

Transfer switches and generators at gas stations “are excellent. But the chain is only as good as the weakest link. And the weakest link in all of this is the waterside terminal,” he said.

Opalka said studies of the petroleum terminals were conducted following superstorm Sandy. The final report, which was released in March 2014, said that terminals in general “have taken measures to protect their facilities against flooding, including elevating electrical systems; protecting cabling; and installing berms, levees, or floodwalls to protect their facilities,” though additional work remained to be done.

At the Shell Terminal in Lawrence, where tankers fill up every day with gasoline mostly piped in through New Jersey, terminal manager Stephen Moscarella remembered the morning after Sandy.

The terminal, then called the Motiva Terminal, had been flooded with six feet of water, overflowing dykes around petroleum storage tanks and shorting out electrical power.

“Seeing everything trashed, I was just in a state of shock. I’d never seen anything like it,” he said.

It wouldn’t be until Dec. 3 that the terminal reopened again for tanker trucks to fill up.

Since then, the main building has been gutted. Some equipment has been raised. And work on replacing most of the electrical wiring with water resistant cables is expected to be completed at the end of November, Moscarella said.

“We’re a lot better off,” he said. “Everything we do is preparing for the next one.”

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