Problem involved diesel tank; DEC called in
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
The Putnam County Legislature Tuesday night shed light on a mystery that this past winter left Philipstown drivers worried about allegations of watered fuel at a Cold Spring gasoline station.
At their formal monthly meeting April 1 at the old courthouse in Carmel, legislators expressed appreciation to county Consumer Affairs Director Jean Noel and her staff for launching an investigation that determined that diesel fuel at the relevant station contained water. The Consumer Affairs department then brought in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Although the legislators did not identify the business in question, Noel later told Philipstown.info/The Paper that it was the service station at the Foodtown shopping plaza in Cold Spring. Currently selling Gulf products, the station proprietors also have developed plans to convert the auto repair garage on the premises to a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise.
District 6 Legislator Roger Gross mentioned the watered-fuel puzzle as the legislature’s meeting wound down. “There was a gas station putting water in the gasoline,” he said. Typically, he said, watery fuel is a summertime phenomenon. In this instance, he added, it occurred in wintertime and featured “a high percentage” of dilution.
“A fellow’s truck seized up — with $4,000 damages,” Gross explained. “Jean and her assistant went over to the station and did a test and confirmed it was about 30 to 40 percent water. This is a good example of government acting. They put the squeeze on them” — the gas station — which then paid for the repairs to the truck, Gross informed his colleagues. He said the incident took place in District 1 — Philipstown. He commended Noel and her agency’s response. “It shows the public that Consumer Affairs … act and get the job done.”
District 1 Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra and other legislators joined in the praise. “By the time I got some calls from residents and people on the Village Board” about the allegations related to the gas station, “Jean had already been there,” Scuccimarra commented. “It was a done deal.”
Testing reveals water presence
Noel told Philipstown.info that at the service station “there was four inches of water in their underground storage tank.” When she arrived on the scene, she said, the fuel line was frozen. “There was obviously water in there,” Noel said. Further testing of diesel revealed the presence of water, she continued. “We filed a complaint with the DEC,” which is following up to try to determine how the water got into the tank, she added.
The station operators initially denied responsibility but later agreed to fix the customer’s damaged truck, she said. “I think it sends a strong message” that Putnam County demands accountability “and that you have to take responsibility” as a business owner.
Cold Spring resident Tony Bardes, who runs the landscaping business Habitat Revival, said April 2 that he was the gas station customer who raised the issue. He elaborated during a phone interview and in a letter he wrote to the county legislature and passed along to Philipstown.info.
In the letter, Bardes stated that in January after his truck was filled at the station — it was his snow-plow truck, a mainstay of his work in winter — “I had driven less than a half mile and my truck died.” After efforts to re-start it failed, he had it hauled off for repairs by his mechanics and “I was informed I had frozen fuel lines” and “that I had 20 gallons of water that had frozen in the lines, tank and fuel system, causing extensive damage to my truck, to the tune of approximately $4,800.”
In both the letter and phone conversation, he said that he promptly contacted the service station to report the problem, but got nowhere. “Needless to say, I was shocked at this response,” he stated.
Bardes, too, said that the service station fuel pump had frozen and that he took photographs of it when it was being fixed by an outside company. “How the water got into the tank I can only guess,” Bardes told Philipstown.info.
Under the circumstances, “I was pretty frustrated” and notified Consumer Affairs, Bardes added. He said Noel and her staff “were amazingly quick. These guys really, really helped me out. If there’s an egregious problem, they’re right on it,” he said.
“As a licensed contractor, it’s nice to know that our county legislature is funding things like this and looking out for our county’s well-being,” he wrote to the legislators.
Through Consumer Affairs’ intervention, he got reimbursement from the gas station for truck repairs. However, his total costs were higher than the bill, due to his lost time and inability to use the truck for business, he said in the phone call. “It was a two-month affair in the middle of winter.”