Lack of marine fuel jeopardizes AuSable River port status
Written by Oscoda Press   
Wednesday, 29 December 2004 09:45
The latest threat to AuSable and Oscoda tourism could hit this spring: no marine gas.

With the conversion of marinas to residential property and private mooring, there is no longer a gas dock on the Lake Huron side of the US-23 AuSable River bridge.
For the past several years offshore boats must cross beneath the bridge to fill up at Northeast Michigan Marine or Fellows Marina.

Despite the relatively recent combination of low water and silt build up, a number of captains regularly do just that.

Many people in the community underestimate the impact of Great Lake port status on the local economy, according to Northeast Michigan Marine owner Cal McLaren.

Last year, which was a bad one because of the low water situation, McLaren sold some 25,000 gallons of gasoline from his fuel dock, half that of prior years.

It could not be learned how Fellows fared.

The impacts of the marinas and boat traffic on the local economy is a large one worth several million dollars each year, based on studies done by Michigan State University and the Michigan Charter Boat Association.

After captains fuel up, they and their passengers often visit local restaurants, stores and lodging establishments. Marine mechanics and parts retailers benefit as well. Jobs are created and the tax base increases.

The pending gas crisis is partially the result of regulatory actions.

McLaren says the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has red-tagged his gas pump and that at Fellows.

A red tag serves as notice to fuel wholesalers that it is illegal to fill the tanks.

McLaren said he was told it is because neither business currently has refueling insurance.

He does not know why Fellows' insurance was cancelled but in the case of Northeast, it is due to McLaren's former carrier dropping coverage on any fueling operation within 50 feet of the water.

McLaren has found a carrier who has tentatively agreed to insure the Northeast fuel dock for about $4,500 for a year, but only after certain tests on his underground holding tank.

One of these, which is also required every five years by the MDEQ, costs about $2,500.

McLaren had a company perform the test last week. This involves digging an opening to the tank, calculating the thickness of the steel, and testing the resin.

The company told McLaren it looks good but the final determination will be made by the MDEQ, a process which usually takes 30 to 90 days.

Even after the MDEQ gives the green light, McLaren said he will still not have an answer on insurance.

The insurance company, in addition to the state-required inspection and tests on the tank, requires a separate tank tightness check, which cannot be performed until spring. This will mean another expensive fee, in addition to the state fees for registration and dispensing.

"It just goes on and on and on. You spend thousands before you ever pump your first gallon of gas."

McLaren has committed to taking all reasonable measures to reopen his fuel dock in 2005 but, at this point, he says it is out of his hands.

"If neither of us (Northeast or Fellows) is able to pump gas, it will be the end. The cruisers and over-nighters will pass us by. A lot of the big fishing boats will go elsewhere even if the dredging situation and low water is resolved. Boats need gas."

The businessman predicts some boat owners will hand carry gas in five or 10-gallon cans. But it takes a long time to fill up a 100- or 500-gallon tank that way and is not recommended because of the high danger of explosion and the risks of environmental contamination from spills.

"Eventually boating and fishing in the area will dry up, except for the boats that are trailered in," McLaren predicts.

Northeast Michigan Marine and others are up for sale. Most of the interest is by developers looking to establish residential condominium-style living.

"It's becoming such a burden to be in the marina business anymore that it is almost impossible to make a living. That's why more and more of us are selling out," McLaren remarked.

The AuSable River has served as a Great Lake port for more than 150 years. It has helped the AuSable and Oscoda communities survive numerous economic challenges, including the Fire of 1911 and the closure of Wurtsmith Air Force Base.

McLaren hopes fuel and low water will not spell the end.

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