Emergency generators to pump gas may be required

Adding insult to injury during the windstorm last December, there was no way for Islanders to get gas to travel off the Island, run chain saws or operate generators.

Since gas stations were without power as well, Islanders had no choice but to get fuel for their cars and generators off the Island. Those lucky enough to find open gas stations in Bellevue or Seattle often had to wait in long lines to fill their tanks.

Now state legislators have passed a bill in the House that would provide a tax credit for gas stations that install the necessary equipment to keep the gas pumping after a natural disaster or power outage. The Mercer Island City Council is also looking into having an emergency gas pump generator at the Island’s four fuel stations. After city staff de-briefed Council on Feb. 5 of the city’s response to the December windstorm, Council asked staff to research the possibility of requiring some method to pump gas in case of the next prolonged power outage.

According to Katie Knight, assistant city attorney, the city could legally require stations to provide emergency generators in the city’s building code. If the state enacts the law providing the tax credit, House Bill 2053, it would make it easier for the Council to get emergency generation on the Island, Representative Fred Jarrett said.

Similar actions have been taken by state and local governments in Florida. Last year, state legislators in Florida passed a law that requires gas stations along the state’s evacuation routes to have emergency generators pumping gas for 36 hours after a natural disaster if regular power is not available.

The city of Hialeah Gardens, located just east of Miami, also enacted a local ordinance that requires the three or four gas stations within the city limits to have back up generators to help residents flee hurricanes and get by in the aftermath of a storm.

According to Jarrett, the Washington state bill began as a requirement for any firm owning 10 or more gas stations in a county to purchase a proportionate number of portable generators and assure all their stations were wired to be able to use them. However, there was a fair amount of pushback from the industry, Jarrett said, and the bill came out of committee on a party-line vote.

So, the bill was amended and removed the requirement. It’s now based on providing tax incentives to station owners, providing a 50 percent Business and Operations, or B&O, tax credit. The bill was approved by the House on March 9 with a 96-0 vote.

“We do a poor job of preparing for emergencies and as we become more technologically dependent, the cost of the failure to prepare gets higher,” Jarrett said from Olympia last week. “It seems to me that emergency generation is important, but I liked the tax credit approach better than the regulatory approach as I think it’s a public benefit. It's only fair the public pick up a share of the costs.”

The 50 percent tax credit would help gas stations absorb the $10,000 to $15,000 installation costs. In addition to purchasing a generator, stations have to re-wire pumps and other controls to activate the emergency power source when electricity is out.

All of Mercer Island’s gas stations are independently owned, except for the Chevron tagged for demolition next month. Industry experts note that requiring stations to have back up generators will add to the cost of fuel because station owners must pass on the costs to consumers.

Lee Wilson, director of the Washington Oil Marketers Association that represents fuel distributors, agreed the costs would be passed onto the consumer but said having emergency generation was a good thing.

“Even if there was a frenzy and the station only had enough gas to last a day,” Wilson said, “at least the fuel wouldn’t be in the ground and could last long enough before a fuel truck could (arrive).”

“To be there when people are in a time of need is a great thing and part of our industry,” he continued. “Taking care of that immediate need is important and if we had to put a truck on a barge or something like that if there was no other access then we could figure that out.”

A city-wide Community Preparedness Week is set for April 22 through 29, and will including a discussion featuring emergency preparedness advocates Pat Hamman and Michael Lienauon on Wednesday, April 25 at 7 p.m. at the Community Center at Mercer View. The presentation will provide simple and effective ways to prepare now for the next emergency. Watch for more information about other events leading up to and during Community Preparedness Week and don’t miss the opportunity to learn more from your home through the city’s cable broadcast on Channel 21.

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