Tangier Island's watermen rely on fuel oil deliveries. New funding will keep the supply safe from encroaching water levels. Photo: Jane Thomas, IAN Image Library

Low-Lying Tangier Island to Get $2.3 Million to Safeguard Fuel Oil Supply for Watermen

The town of Tangier Island, Va. has been awarded a $2.5 million grant to ensure the town’s watermen can keep getting the fuel they need to run their boats—and that fuel supply will be kept safe from an environmental disaster.

The $2.5 million from the Virginia Department of Environment Quality (DEQ) will provide funding to create safe storage of fuel and continued supply of fuel and fuel oil to the island.

Tangier Island sits in the middle of Chesapeake Bay with a population of about 375 people. The majority of residents make their livings working the water.

The current fuel facility, along with the transportation and delivery of fuel to the island by way of a fuel barge towed by a tugboat, have been privately owned for years.

“The owner of the fuel plant was going to close it down,” said Mayor of Tangier, James “Ooker” Eskridge.  “If the fuel plant closed down, that would have been catastrophic to our community. We would not have accessible fuel to run our boats and fuel oil to heat our homes.”

“We are very grateful to DEQ because the community did not have the money to do all this,” he said. The town has already taken over the operation of the fuel station, hiring a secretary and two dock workers, said Mayor Eskridge.

“The primary project involves protecting Tangier’s only petroleum storage facility, which is exposed to flooding and will benefit from additional environmental controls to prevent petroleum spills. Safe, continued operation of this storage facility is necessary to support the Island’s commercial fishing fleet,” stated a news release from DEQ.

A portion of the grant funds will be used to purchase the tank facility from the existing owner, replace old tanks with new double walled tanks, and old fuel lines with new ones.

The grant funds can also be used to purchase equipment and spare parts for the town’s wastewater treatment plant and flood gates around the island to prevent recurrent flooding. The town can also use it to purchase the fuel barge, but the tugboat does not fall under the purview of the grant. 

“We are hoping that the current owner of the fuel barge and tugboat will keep bringing us fuel,” said Mayor Eskridge. “We do not want to have to buy a tugboat but we will do what we have to do.”

DEQ Director Mike Rolband said, “When we learned about the significant threats to this unique community from an unprotected fuel facility and recurrent flooding, DEQ was ready and eager to help. We are pleased that DEQ was able to provide funding and technical support that Tangier Island and its residents so critically need.”