Will you be able to get gas if Joaquin hits NJ? Maybe not
Sal Risalvato's day has been a nightmare, he said.
All day, he's been hearing from people — mostly media — wanting to know if New Jersey's going to experience the extreme gas shortages it did after superstorm Sandy, should Hurricane Joaquin wallop the state.
And the answer, according to the head of the New Jersey Gasoline, C-Store, Automotive Association?
Don't count on it.
Thursday afternoon, Risalvato had just watched Gov. Chris Christie say he doesn't expect major gasoline supply problems during a press conference on Joaquin preparedness.
"I'm glad he's as confident," said Risalvato, whose association represents about 1,000 of the roughly 2,300 gas stations in the state.
Two major problems plagued New Jersey drivers in the aftermath of Sandy. 1) Gas stations throughout the state were left without power, right along with other businesses and residents. 2) Gas station transport and distribution was disrupted as roads closed and refineries suffered damage.
Risalvato's worried about both.
After Sandy, the federal government made available about $7 million for New Jersey gas stations to buy generators to keep their pumps going in another majorly disruptive storm.
But Risalvato said that money doesn't go as far as it sounds. He estimated it costs about $100,000 to get the generators in — and grants were capped at $65,000.
"These small business owners have to make the decision to lay out a significant amount of money that they're probably not going to get back," he said.
He estimated about 50 gas stations had applied for the program. He guessed about half of those had generators in place.
But there's one bit of good news — he said about another 100 or so gas stations have become equipped since Sandy to use portable generators if need be.
It's damage to refineries that particularly worries Risalvato.
"Quite frankly, we could have a nuclear power plant behind every gas station for power, and it wouldn't make a difference," he said. "My concern is getting the gasoline in the tanker trucks."
Current forecasts suggest that won't be a strong problem. It's still unclear whether New Jersey will take a direct hit from Joaquin, but meteorologist Dan Zarrow expects the worst of the storm to be felt in south Jersey coastal areas.
Risalvato said some steps have been taken since Sandy among his organization to be better prepared. In particular, his group has built a more thorough database to reach its members by phone or other means for emergency communications.
"I guess it falls under the rule that if we make all of these preparations, the storm won't hit us," he said.
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Louis C. Hochman is digital managing editor for NJ1015.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LouisCHochman.