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Bergen County officials fear gas emergency

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Concern over gasoline supplies has grown so great, that Bergen County officials this afternoon asked their municipal counterparts to conserve as much as they can.

Rt 46 BP, Lodi (CLIFFVIEW PILOT photo by Mary Figueroa)

“We have fuel supplies,” said Dwayne Razzetti, the director of the Bergen County Office of Emergency Management. “But if we don’t get more fuel in the next couple of days, emergency services stop. PSE&G and Orange and Rockland also stops working.”

The state and federal governments are doing all they can to get more fuel to New Jersey, said Razzetti, who spoke with officials from both today.

Consumers are encountering shortages, as well, with several service stations closed and others only dispensing gas into containers for home generators. The photo above — taken by Willy Thompson for CLIFFVIEW PILOT — was shot at the Ridgefield Sunoco on Broad Avenue.

However, if rationing becomes necessary, he said fire departments would, of course, get first priority. The more that municipalities can conserve now, the better, Razzetti said.

“This is a critical public safety issue.”

Gasoline and diesel fuel supplies have tightened across the East Coast as the major pipelines and refineries in the Northeast shut down during Hurricane Sandy. Power outages and hurricane related damage are delaying efforts to restart fuel production equipment.

As a result, Gov. Christie today directed Treasury officials to waive licensing requirements that affect merchants’ ability to buy fuel from out-of-state suppliers.

Under normal conditions, merchants not licensed to import fuel can’t legally buy gasoline and diesel from out of state and import it.

The waiver, which will be in place until Nov. 7, will boost storm-depleted supplies by allowing all merchants temporarily to buy fuel from out of state for their New Jersey customers.

Fuel merchants who buy fuel from out of state who aren’t currently licensed importers will have to document their purchases and pay required New Jersey taxes.

State officials this afternoon also told facilities that operate in the public interest that it’s acceptable to use home heating oil in emergency generators instead of diesel fuel until Nov. 13.

That date could be extended, depending on the circumstances, the DEP said.

State officials said they issued the advisory in response to emergency management officials who are concerned that temporary disruptions in supplies of diesel fuel caused by the storm may impact essential services provided by hospitals, nursing homes, water and sewer utilities, solid waste disposal facilities and other facilities operating in the public interest.

“The DEP is taking this action due to the critical need to maintain power to essential facilities as the state recovers from this historic storm,” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. “It is crucial that these facilities experience no disruption while crews work to restore power to the state.”

Price gouging

Another state agency, the Division of Consumer Affairs, has deployed teams of investigators to hit retail outlets throughout New Jersey after receiving an initial rush of more than 100 calls about price gouging by service stations, generator sellers, hotels, and other merchants.

“We are actively investigating calls from across our state alleging that gas stations have raised their prices by 20 to 30 percent in one day, that hardware stores have doubled the price they charge for generators overnight, and that hotels have excessively increased the price of rooms for residents who are without electricity or who have been evacuated from their homes,” Gov. Christie said.

“We will not hesitate to impose the strictest penalties on profiteers who, in direct violation of our consumer protection laws, seek to capitalize on the misfortune of others in the midst of a crisis and recovery period,” the governor said.

Specifically, the statute makes it illegal to set excessive price increases of more than 10 percent during a declared state of emergency or for 30 days after the termination of the state of emergency.

Violations face civil penalties of up to $10,000 for the first offense and $20,000 for the second and subsequent offenses.

Each individual sale of merchandise is considered a separate and distinct event.

If you believe you’ve been gouged, as defined under state law, call the Division of Consumer Affairs at (800) 242-5846.

You are also entitled to a written receipt before paying for any item — and should get one, especially if you suspect price gouging. It’s your evidence not only of what you paid but of your right to a refund.

Bergen emergency measures

Meanwhile, Bergen County officials have set up backup police stations and communications centers for Cliffside Park and Moonachie, which lost their departments in the storm. The county also is assisting Demarest.

Governments prepare for 100-year storms, but Sandy was unlike anything seen in more than 200 years,

“We did not take the direct hit that Atlantic and Ocean County did, but the county suffered severe damage in the storm,” County Executive Kathleen Donovan added during a conference call this afternoon.

Local officials on the phone call cited downed wires that have blocked roads.

Razzetti said the utilities “are really working at it” and that power is being restored gradually.

“It’s a very big task for them,” he said.

Two shelters remain open: Bergen Community College, with 300 people, and the youth complex at Teterboro, with 200 evacuees from the flooding in Moonachie and Little Ferry. The Lyndhurst senior center shelter is closed.

In addition, the Hasbrouck Heights Hilton on Terrace Avenue, off Route 17, has rooms available for those receiving public assistance.

Among other points made during the conference call, Donovan said that any price gouging (10 percent above ordinary price) should be reported to the county and will be investigated.
Fuel advisory

The state’s diesel advisory covers stationary or portable generators designed for larger power loads. Smaller units that homeowners use are ordinarily are designed to use gasoline and aren’t subject to the advisory.

Any applicable regulatory requirements for air pollution limits from these units will be waived during this period, the DEP said. This will allow operators to use diesel fuel or home heating oil regardless of installation date or type of emergency generator.

Operators should first, of course, check manufacturer specifications before switching from diesel to home heating oil.

Higher sulfur home heating oil usually can be burned in emergency diesel engines, but should be avoided in model year 2012 units rated between 175 horsepower and 700 horsepower because it may damage parts of the unit.

Model year 2012 units were sold this year and in 2011.

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