Passing Off Gas

Providing fueling services . . . from a marina's perspective

Published in the June 2008 Issue Published online: Jun 26, 2008 Tyler J. Baum
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Gas is expensive enough at a regular gas station, so you may suspect that a marina-if the marina chooses to provide fueling-is gouging you, demanding you pay the price of convenience. But if you listen closely, you'll hear the marina owners complain about the gas just as much as you do-if not more. Instead of paying for the convenience, it would be more accurate to say you're paying for necessary environmental regulations.

"When all is said and done, we lose money selling gas," says Charlotte "Char" Schiller, part-owner of Klave's Marina in Dexter Township, Mich., on Portage Lake.

Char helps run the family-owned business with her two brothers. The marina is a small business that makes a little over $2 million a year in revenue. Having grown up on the property where the marina is located, Char and her brothers are eager to do their part to keep the lake clean and be in compliance with state regulations, but it isn't easy.

Leaking underground gas storage tanks in the 1980s convinced Michigan to take action with a state fund, funded by fuel taxes but requiring qualification for payout. Klave's obediently followed along, installing a self-contained, aboveground, 1,000-gallon tank. The tank and the gas pump were housed in a concrete vault with no top. Char says the venture was complicated and expensive.

"We did exactly what we needed to do to stay in compliance," she says. However, she adds, "State funds were misspent and ran out. It's long and complicated."

Even though Klave's still may not have recovered from that installation, in the spring of 2007 they decided to replace it again in order to keep up with the continuously updated regulations. The new tank is an explosion-proof, self-contained, above-ground tank with an automatic shut-off device and breakaway hoses in case a boat accidentally pulls away while fueling.

To ensure against fines from oil spills, Klave's took the initiative by installing what Char calls "absorbent socks"-white, floating tubes covered in netting and made with an absorbent material that sucks up oil or gas from a spill. Klave's lined the entire gas dock with the socks. The absorbent socks are also quite exorbitant-they cost $200-300 dollars each time Klave's replaces the socks, which need to be done two or three times a year. They also keep a spill kit on hand.

Klave's insurance company requires the marina to maintain a one million dollar liability policy, and even asks that marina customers pump their own gas, under supervision, to defer the liability of spills. That policy conflicts with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which requires a fuel attendant when fueling on the water. Because of the quirkiness of the different fuel fills, overspill still comes out the gas vents and can easily spill into the water.

"It's nearly impossible to have a fuel dock on the water without having spillage because of the way the fuel fills are designed," explains Char. "Our trained fueling attendants are much better at preventing spills and much more conscientious than many of the boaters. Naturally, customers didn't like having to pump themselves. Despite the insurance company's recommendation, we felt it was best for our marina, our customers and the environment to fill the tanks for them."

She says that when all is said and done, the total cost to become compliant with the continually changing environmental standards was staggering-in excess of $25 thousand.

"In 2007, our total fuel sales were $75,147. The price we paid for that fuel was $66,282. That left $8,800 to cover the ongoing costs of the spill kits and absorbers, the fuel attendant wages, local environmental fees, insurance and other overhead. It's unbelievably expensive," she says. "It will take us a long time, if ever, to recover these costs."

Because of everything it takes to be environmentally compliant, Klave's Marina is now the last marina on the Huron River chain of lakes with a gas dock.

The possible fines are not the only thing driving Klave's environmental practices, though that's a big part of it-spilling gas is subject to a five to a 50 thousand dollar fine. But to Char and her brothers, it's more than that. Five generations of their family have grown up on Portage Lake.

Because Char and her brothers grew up on the property the marina is built on, the lake is home.

"The waterway is our livelihood," she says. "My grandchildren fish and swim in this lake. I want their grandchildren to enjoy it too. We consider it an investment to do our part in keeping it clean."

Char has no problem preventing pollution, but she says people need to understand that it's going to be part of the cost of boating.

"It's not that marinas are setting unbelievable fuel prices," says Char. "They think we've got a captive audience. Our fuel sales have actually gone down in recent years."

Luckily, the marina has the Michigan Boating Industries Association on their side. The MBIA is a non-profit trade association dedicated to the promotion, protection and advancement of the recreational boating industry in Michigan. As bills continuously go before the Michigan legislature, the MBIA keeps on top of it and notifies Klave's what they need to do to stay compliant.

"When customers understand where Klave's Marina is coming from, they do appreciate that the marina is doing everything in their power to keep the fuel prices down," says Char. "But even when customers understand the marina's position, I'm still not sure we made the right decision to continue on-the-water fueling. It's a discussion we have at the end of every year."

For more information on Klave's Marina call 734-426-4532 or visit www.klavesmarina.com.

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