Sept. 6, 2006 – Unless the local government can work out a deal to keep the Texaco station in Cruz Bay open, residents and tourists will soon have to trek out to Coral Bay to buy fuel at the Domino gas station.
"Something like this is going to hurt St. John," St. John Administrator Julien Harley said Wednesday.
St. John resident Ivy Moses and a group of concerned citizens late Wednesday announced they would hold a meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday in Cruz Bay Park to discuss the looming gas crisis.
"There's no reason why there should be only one station on St. John," Moses said.
She said the group was inviting Public Works Commission George Philips and a Texaco representative.
St. John has three gas stations, and the Texaco permanently closed up shop Tuesday. E&C, which is a Domino station, will shut down temporarily in the near future to replace its fuel tanks.
Robert O'Connor Jr., who operates the Texaco station located near Winston Wells Ballfield in Cruz Bay for Texaco Caribbean, confirmed Wednesday that the station had to close because the Public Works Department is planning to build a roundabout where the station sits (See "Roundabout Coming, Gas Station Going").
He also owns O'Connor Car Rental, which is located at the gas station.
He said that while he knew the closure was coming because the local government had already gone through condemnation proceedings in Superior Court, he just learned early last week that it would happen this week.
"I got my last load of fuel on Thursday," he said.
He said he sold the last of it Tuesday.
Myrtle Barry, who owns E&C gas station, said that she did not know when her gas station would shut down for the change of tanks, but it would be in the near future.
She said Domino was taking out its tanks so E&C could install its own.
O'Connor said it takes six to eight weeks to make tank changes.
He said Texaco hasn't found space to relocate the gas station. Information first surfaced about the roundabout in 2002, and a public hearing was held in 2003, which gave Texaco several years to find another location for its gas station.
Philips said late Wednesday that Texaco's decision not to find another space before they had to close the Texaco was a "business decision."
He said that the government showed them several possible sites, including one in the Susannaberg area, which is developing into a business district, but they couldn't reach an agreement.
Philips said that the government offered Texaco the option to keep the gas station open until construction on the roundabout starts.
"They are reviewing the contents of the letter now," he said.
Algernon Cargill, retail district manager at Texaco Caribbean in Puerto Rico, could not be reached for comment.
O'Connor also said that he's not sure where he'll move his car rental business, but he will reopen somewhere in Cruz Bay.
While Philips said Public Works initially floated a September date for the start of construction, he said that the date was pushed to February and then until June 2007.
Word went around St. John that the government would charge Texaco rent if it wanted to stay until construction began, but Philips said that no rent can be charged until a certificate of title to the property is issued. He said this has not occurred. He didn't know when it would happen.
"The issue is off the table," he said, adding that after the government gets title to the property, it would review the rent issue.
Harley said that government vehicles have an account to fill up at the Texaco, which means the government will have to come up with an alternative plan for gas.
However, Deputy Public Works Commissioner Ira Wade said the government will work out something so it can continue to provide services.
Texaco was also the only station to take credit cards for gas, which means people without cash in their pocket will be out of luck.
Several people said the lack of gas stations in Cruz Bay will also cause problems for car rental companies.
"This is really going to critical mass," St. John Car Rental owner Albert Willis said.
Willis, whose business is located in Cruz Bay, called it a lack of planning on the part of the government, which he said failed to think about the impact on St. John.
St. John resident John Fuller said the closures will be difficult for tourists who need to top off their tanks before turning in the cars.
It will also be inconvenient for residents who have to drive about eight miles from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay for gas.
Fuller, who lives in Cruz Bay, said he tries to get gas in Coral Bay when he has to make a trip to that end of the island because the gas is cheaper.
"But at times I do need gas and go to the Texaco," he said.
Harley said he fears that if gas becomes scarce, people will resort to stealing it, putting it in unsafe containers or bringing it from St. Thomas on the barge.
"It comes back to safety," he said.
O'Connor said he thinks that Public Works could have developed the roundabout with just the tip of the Texaco-owned property rather than using it all.
Public Works announced several years ago that the roundabout was in the works to alleviate traffic congestion it expected to develop when Enighed Pond Marine Terminal opened.
At an April 2, 2003 meeting, Port Authority officials said the roundabout will be 96 feet in diameter, with an additional 18-foot zone within the turning area for trucks that need extra space to turn. The asphalt road will be 20 feet wide.
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