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By Connie Leinbach
Ocracoke islanders wanting to fill up at Ocracoke’s only gas station may have to wait until Tuesday to do so unless they go off island.
The pumps at the Ocracoke Station were shut off Friday for nonpayment of the gasoline bill, said Hyde County Manager Bill Rich.
Gas station owner Sean Death, who was in the hospital since last Monday and is on the way back to the island today (Sunday), spoke Saturday evening from his hospital bed.
“I’m hoping they will be on Tuesday,” he said about the pumps. “I’m exploring our options.”
He said the situation is not because he and his wife, Laurie, suddenly stopped paying their bills. The financial difficulties goes back to October 2016 when Hurricane Matthew flooded the inside of the building.
The Deaths still have not been paid for that insurance claim of about $60,000, he said. Since then there have been continued catastrophic equipment and structural failures as a result of the flooding damage because there’s no insulation in the building, he said.
“It’s just been one thing after another,” he said.
The couple filed a lawsuit to get their 2016 insurance claim, have taken out more loans and have spent all of their money on the business.
“We’ve exhausted all of our resources,” Death said.
Rich said he talked with Death several times in the last week.
“Sean was good enough to give us a head up on Thursday,” Rich said, prompting the county to make sure its ambulances are full, as well as the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department trucks.
In the meantime, islanders can obtain gas in Hatteras, Cedar Island and on the mainland. Rich said there are four gas stations between Fairfield and Engelhard on the mainland.
Some islanders have gotten gas from the Anchorage Marina, but that isn’t an option for the entire island since the marina is set up primarily to provide gas for boaters. Nevertheless, they have been providing gas for vehicles by request.
“I provided gas for about 15 vehicles today,” said William Gilbert, who manages the service, on Saturday.
A sign with a phone number is on the door of the marina office, and, if called, Gilbert will come down to sell gas, but that gas availability will not be constant.
“We don’t open officially until March 15 and we will be on and off the island between now and then,” he added.
Rich said he talked to Hyde County Commissioner Chairman Earl Pugh Jr. Friday night about the situation.
“It’s a real concern for the island and the county,” he said. “It’s a real vulnerability for the island.”
He said the county can’t depend on private enterprise for gasoline and that perhaps the county could install its own gas stations on the mainland and the island for its vehicles. Were this to happen, the pumps would be available to residents in emergencies, he said.
Peter Vankevich contributed to this story.