Boaters in the region no longer have to travel to Canada to get "real gas." Many area marina owners say they have started selling ethanol-free gasoline again and that their customers seem to be happy to pay the premium price to prevent possible engine damage caused by the ethanol blend.
"Boaters yell to me at the docks, 'Does it have ethanol?' They don't mind if it costs a little more than ethanol gas. It was horrible last year with so many people having engine issues," said Susan M. Duffy, owner of Off The Hook Gas in Lisbon, where ethanol-free 91-octane fuel is $4.89 per gallon, about a dollar more than what people would pay at a gas station for the ethanol blend.
Much to the dismay of their customers, area marinas at the end of August last year were forced to switch to E10, which contains up to 10 percent ethanol in gasoline, because they were simply unable to find a distributor who carried ethanol-free gas.
"We didn't have ethanol-free gas until about seven to 10 days ago," said John J. Killius, owner of Henchen Marina and Fishing Camp, Henderson Harbor.
At $4.45 per gallon, Henchen Marina is selling ethanol-free gas at a 20-cent premium over the E10 blend at its pumps. However, Mr. Killius said, none of his customers are filling their boat tanks with ethanol gas.
"Over a dozen folks here who had ethanol gas in their tanks had engine problems," Mr. Killius said. "In fact, it's taken out every small engine I operate here."
Mr. Killius said phase separation — where water-laden ethanol separates from the rest of the gas and clogs up the engine by sinking to the bottom of the fuel tank after sitting unused for about three weeks — and alcohol dissolving rubber parts were among the issues his customers have experienced.
While newer engines have the ability to handle the mixture of gas and ethanol, older and smaller ones do not. Ethanol also can dissolve some fiberglass fuel tanks, soft metals and plastic as well as rubber hoses, seals and gaskets, according to Barbara J. Caster, executive secretary of the Boating Industries Association of Upstate New York, Cicero.
"Our gas business has increased significantly since word got out that we carried ethanol-free gas," said Richard J. Mayette, operator of Coles Creek Marina, Waddington.
He said many other marinas have been switching back to "real gas" now that area fuel distributors — such as Mx Petroleum Corp. and Econo Fuels Inc. in Massena — are carrying it again.
Ms. Duffy said the demand has been high and her business "actually ran out of gas on the Fourth of July."
She said she understands gasoline blends that include ethanol are supposed to improve the environment, but it is done at the expense of not only boaters, but also everybody who owns a chain saw or a lawnmower.
Despite similar concerns raised by marine, environmental, motor vehicle, energy and recreational industry groups, it is now a matter of time before people see gasoline with higher ethanol blend sold at the pumps.
After granting a partial waiver in January allowing the distribution of E15, which contains up to 15 percent ethanol in gasoline, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on June 23 issued a final regulation on the appropriate use of E15 and approved the blend's pump label.
According to the EPA website, E15 only is for use in model year 2001 and newer "light-duty" motor vehicles and flex-fuel vehicles. It is "prohibited by federal law" to use the ethanol blend in gasoline-powered equipment and off-road vehicles, such as boats and snowmobiles.