Should Gas Stations Have Generators?

Putnam legislators divided over proposal for mandate

Does Putnam County need a law that requires filling stations to have backup generators so residents can still get gas during power outages such as the one recently caused by Tropical Storm Isaias?

Or is that too much government? 

The nine-member county Legislature was divided on the issue on Aug. 20 during a meeting of its Rules Committee.

Legislator Nancy Montgomery (D-Philipstown) called the proposal “an overreach for small businesses who — yes, they are gas stations and they’re essential — but they’ve suffered too during COVID. People are not traveling as much, people aren’t buying as much, and now we’re going to mandate this?”

The topic came up when County Executive MaryEllen Odell said she would be asking the Legislature to support a generator law. She said that during the outage, the few stations that had generators attracted lines of customers that grew so long they disrupted traffic and caused panic.

“If we have the power to enforce this, I would be in favor of it,” said Legislator Carl Albano (R-Carmel), suggesting that new stations be required to have generators but that existing businesses be given a grace period. 

Legislator Joseph Castellano (R-Southeast) said he had no objection to requiring new stations to have generators, but expressed concern over forcing the upgrade at existing businesses “when they might feel they don’t need it or can’t afford it.”

Legislator Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson) said gas stations provide an essential service and that while she agreed that existing businesses should be given a grace period, eventually all stations should be required to make the investment. She also expressed doubt that many new stations would be opening in the county. “We’re pretty well-saturated,” she said.

Legislator Neal Sullivan (R-Mahopac) said the county could be flexible, working with the Consumer Affairs Department to determine if a station should be exempted because of cost, space, noise or other issues.

Legislator Bill Gouldman (R-Putnam Valley) suggested it would be hypocritical for the county to require gas stations to have backup generators when there are county facilities that do not have them. He noted that during a previous outage, people who needed to charge their phones “had to go down to Westchester County” because Putnam “didn’t have generators in their buildings.” 

Legislator Paul Jonke (R-Brewster) also voiced opposition.

“I don’t think we should be getting involved in private businesses,” he said. “If these small-business owners saw an advantage to having a generator in a time of a crisis, they would have installed them. If it weren’t cost prohibitive, they would have already installed them. I don’t think we should be dictating to them how they should spend their money to provide a service.”

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