Thursday, December 12, 2013
By Tom Bell email@example.com
GREAT DIAMOND ISLAND - On Memorial Day weekend, when all the summer people were arriving on the island to open their cottages, Ted Weber propped up a sign on the 300-gallon gasoline tank that has been parked on a trailer in front of his house for a quarter of a century.
Ted Weber delivers heating oil and kerosene to residents of Great Diamond and Little Diamond islands. He also supplies gasoline. Great Diamond, where he lives, is zoned residential, so he’s hoping to persuade Portland to change the zoning.
Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer
Great Diamond Island resident Tammy Robinson opposes a zoning change to allow Ted Weber’s oil business to stay on the island. She believes it poses a safety risk.
"Closed for business," it read. "A couple of unnamed persons pushed the city."
If people asked Weber about the sign, he showed them a cease-and-desist order from Portland City Hall.
For many islanders, this was alarming news. Weber owns Dinosaur Enterprises, the island's only supplier of kerosene, gasoline and home heating oil.
The sign's purpose was political. Weber needed help persuading city officials to change the zoning so he could keep his fuel business open.
Here is Weber's problem: The property where he parks two fuel trucks and his trailer for the gasoline tank is zoned for residential use, as is the rest of the island. The trucks are parked in the driveway of his home at 118 Sunset Ave.
The Casco Bay island, which is part of the city of Portland, served as a staging ground for the Atlantic fleet during World War II. Now, 75 people live here year-round, but the summer population swells to 1,800.
Weber also delivers fuel to the handful of homes on Little Diamond, driving his truck to the island over a sandbar that links the two islands at low tide.
Weber, 76, said he makes barely any money from the business, which he describes as a part-time retirement job that keeps him connected to the community and helps pay for the family's annual vacation to Florida. He said he will close the business if the City Council rejects his request to change the zoning to allow commercial uses on the property.
Some islanders, however, believe that the business poses a safety risk and are urging the city to deny Weber's request.
"I don't feel that an oil and gas delivery system has a place in the middle of a residential zone," said Tammy Robinson, who first complained to the city about the issue six years ago. She and her husband, Roger, a lobsterman, live a few houses away from Dinosaur Enterprises, which consists of Ted Weber, his wife, Betsy, and their daughter, Beth. The Robinsons have lived on the island year-round since the late 1970s.
Robinson said she has seen Weber's truck get stuck on the sandbar while crossing over to Little Diamond Island. It was towed out before the tide swept over it, she said, but someday Weber won't be so lucky, and heating oil or kerosene could end up in Casco Bay.
At least two other families also oppose Weber's request for a zoning change, but only Robinson is willing to speak publicly. She said opponents are too intimidated to speak up because they worry that Weber -- who has a monopoly on the fuel business on the island -- could effectively leave his opponents in the cold by cutting off their service.
The way Robinson sees it, Weber's monopoly allows him to charge whatever he wants. If Dinosaur Enterprises was closed down, she said, mainland fuel dealers would bring their trucks to the island on a barge. They don't come here now because Weber has tied up the market so much that there are not enough customers to make it worth their while.
Right now, Weber charges $4.70 a gallon. The average cash price for home heating oil is $3.68 a gallon, according to a survey released last week by the Governor's Energy Office.
After the Robinsons complained about Dinosaur Enterprises six years ago, Weber stopped delivering kerosene to them. Tammy Robinson said Ted Weber suggested to her that she might find cheaper fuel elsewhere. So Roger Robinson has been bringing kerosene from the mainland in 5-gallon cans on his lobster boat.
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click image to enlarge
Ted Weber, owner of Dinosaur Enterprises, shown with his wife, Betsy, is the only supplier of fuel on Great Diamond Island. If the zoning isn’t changed, they’ll have to close Dinosaur.