Where are all the Mystic gas stations going?

You might think that the evolution of electric cars is already further along in Mystic than in other places, given the way gas stations in town have been closing.

One closed station, on Broadway Avenue, has already been made into a stylish wine bar, MBAR, where you can sip and nibble in the old garage bays of the Art Deco-style building.

The station across from that one is now shuttered. The noisy ding dings on that corner of Mystic, as cars passed over the rubber strips at the entrances to what were, until not that long ago, full service stations, with attendants who would pump the gas for you, have gone quiet.

The more modern convenience store gas station across Broadway, opposite the train station, is not pumping gas these days, either, one of three stations that have been under construction in recent weeks, with their underground tanks being replaced. For a short period, there were no working pumps anywhere in downtown Mystic.

This seemed like an odd coincidence, to me, that three stations within a mile or two of one another, chose to get new tanks at the same time.

It turns out there are a lot of tank replacements going on across the state right now, according to Lori Saliby, a supervising environmental analyst at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection who is in charge of underground tank regulation enforcement.

There's a simple explanation, she said, since the state imposed new regulations on the underground tanks a little over 30 years ago. The deadline for compliance was 1989, and so many of the state's tanks were replaced soon before then, making them the same age.

Since the allowed lifetime of the tanks is 30 years, it's suddenly tank replacement time all over the state.

This isn't creating a regulatory hardship, Saliby said, since the state is regularly inspecting the tanks. Overseeing all the replacements has not created that much additional inspection work, she said.

Meanwhile, like the two in Mystic that have shut down their pumps altogether, other stations around the state also are going out of business, since the profit margins on gas are low. The ones that remain generally have other parts of their business, like retail sales driven by the visits to the pumps, that sustain them.

The percentage of stations closing for good still seems higher in Mystic.

In the last 10 years, Saliby said, the number of stations with active underground tanks in the state has fallen from about 2,500 to about 2,100, a decline of more than 15 percent.

On the Stonington side of Mystic, two of five stations in the immediate vicinity of downtown have closed recently. There is nowhere left where someone pumps your gas and squeegees your window.

Certainly much of this is the trend toward bigger stations that sell milk, pizza and burgers and won't change your oil or rotate your tires.

Meanwhile, wine bars in lieu of pumps and cars that run without burning fossil fuels is not a bad future for Mystic to lead the way on.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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