East Hampton Town may be getting into the fuel-regulation business in a small way, but not without concern about possible spills and unfair competition.
The town board is headed toward approving an addition to the code that would make it legal to pump diesel from trucks at the Commercial Dock in Three Mile Harbor; gasoline sales from trucks are prohibited. The practice, which prompted a lively debate at a town board hearing in 2009, has in fact been going on for decades, but without significant controls. If the board approves the law, direct diesel fueling of boats from trucks would end at Lake Montauk and at town-owned docks used by recreational boaters.
The Gann Road site was singled out because the largest vessels cannot get to the few private marinas with fuel docks at Three Mile Harbor and because it is in easy reach of the deep navigation channel. In Lake Montauk, there are several relatively accessible private fuel facilities with adequate spill containment and other protections.
The proposed town law contains a troubling contradiction, however. It explicitly acknowledges the environmental risk and potential liability of truck-boat fueling, but would allow it nevertheless where no other source was immediately available. This is not the right solution.
The community’s interest in clean waterways would be far better served if the town sought a company to set up a diesel facility at the Commercial Dock, meeting the same high safety standards as the private marinas. What East Hampton should not do is allow fuel truck operators to undercut established marine businesses — all of which have had to invest large sums of money to be able to sell fuel — and at the same time increase the risk of ecological damage.