Everyone is a prospector as gasoline turns to gold in aftermath of Sandy

JULIE LANE PHOTO | The gas line on Route 114 south of Piccozzi’s gas station Friday at 8:30 a.m.. It was the only one of the Island’s two filling stations that had any fuel to sell Friday morning.

A shortage of gasoline may be the biggest evolving story in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy on Shelter Island and in other communities across the region that otherwise escaped the death and destruction endured in New Jersey and the New York metro region Monday and Tuesday.

O’s gas station ran out on Thursday morning and Piccozzi’s, the Island’s only other filling station, could pump only regular Friday morning and had a line extending up Route 114 and along Winthrop Road. The wait was about 45 minutes, according to drivers. Shelter Island Police were directing traffic and drivers were patient with the wait.

Co-owner George Hoffmann said he had no idea when the station would receive a delivery of fuel. Sales are limited to $50 a driver, cash only.

“It’s running out and it’s not a lot of fun,” he said in a phone interview.

Rob Brewer, an employee pumping gas at 6 p.m. Thursday evening, had been pumping gas all day. “It’s been crazy,” he said. At that time, there were nine cars lined up on Bridge Street and 16 extending up Route 114 to Winthrop Road.

Piccozzi’s had to close because the storm surge flooded its electronic motherboard with three feet of water in the station itself. They were open again at 7:30 Thursday morning.

On the South Fork Thursday at 6:30 p.m., traffic on Montauk Highway was at a crawl because of drivers converging on gas stations that were open, including the Shell Station in Water Mill. Traffic backed up as drivers formed lines of vehicles along the roadside.

In the line at Piccozzi’s Friday, Andy Triffitt, a Southampton builder, was listening the radio while he waited and said lines in the Hamptons are at least twice as long.

Gasoline shortages, rationing and long lines are being reported across the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region.

Ralph Bombardiere, executive director of the New York Association of Service Stations, said the problem is that 13 of the 28 terminals where fuel is received from refineries for this region had power interruptions. Also, the Coast Guard delayed barges coming in to a terminal in Holtsville to off-loaded fuel because storm problems., he said. Also, regionally, individual stations had gasoline “in the ground” but no power to pump it.

“If I could predict what’s happening, I’d be at the track,” he said, “but I believe the weekend will be spotty for service and it could be the end of the week before normalcy returns.”

The situation was a reminder of bad times in the mid-1970s when OPEC squeezed the market, forcing up prices and producing long lines and rationing all across the country.

According to Angelo Piccozzi, who was pumping gasoline at the station his father founded Friday morning, environmental laws restrict New York State retailers from having more than a seven-day supply of gasoline on hand.

Of the station’s quick recovery from the flood that swept over Bridge Street on Monday, “Jake would be proud,” he said about his dad.

At Jimmy O’s, Liz Toth said she has been getting calls from people in Sag Harbor and had to tell them she had no gasoline and didn’t know the situation at Piccozzi’s.

One purchaser at Piccozzi’s Friday morning said he had got his $50 fill-up and intended to get back in line for another fill up.

“I’m just patient, John Lynde of shelter Island said, about his wait Friday morning. His tank, like that of most in line, was less than one-quarter full.

“This is just in case,” James Cummings of Shelter Island said as he read a newspaper in his truck while waiting for the line to move.

For Marek Matlock of Greenport, who was working on the Island, the company of his dog Bobby was keeping him calm during the wait for gas, he said.