Tough Times At The Gas Station

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At the Downtown Tiger Mart on Fannin, just below the I-45 overpass that carries motorists by the Houston skyline, manager Ali Badruddin has just about had it.

On Friday, the state served notice to shut down his retail gas business in 30 days due to a laundry list of technical violations related to his store's underground storage tanks.

And, oh yeah, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality proposes a $55,080 penalty.

A fine reading of the violations will send the novice into the arcana of state law as it relates to doing business with volatile substances kept in the aforementioned "underground storage tanks" -- or USTs as they're called in the state regulatory world.

In the case of the Downtown Tiger Mart, 2111 Fannin St., those would be (Warning: Lots of government bureaucretese to follow, most of which means "have some paperwork on hand"):

...Failing to demonstrate acceptable financial assurance for taking corrective action and for compensating third parties for bodily injury and property damage caused by accidental releases arising from the operation of petroleum underground storage tanks...failing to monitor USTs for releases at a frequency of at least once per month ... by failing to record inventory volume measurement for regulated substance inputs, withdrawals, and the amount still remaining in the tank each operating day... failing to conduct effective manual or automatic inventory control procedures for all USTs involved in the retail sale of petroleum substances as a motor fuel...failing to timely renew a previously issued TCEQ delivery certificate by submitting a properly completed UST registration and self-certification form at least 30 days before the expiration date of the delivery certificate...failing to make available to a common carrier a valid, current, TCEQ delivery certificate before accepting delivery of a regulated substance into the USTs...

Ali says he had all the necessary paperwork, which unfortunately was locked in the office the day he was asked for them.

"I don't have the key to get in!"

Still, he insists he later faxed them to the powers-that-be.

He is a businessman, yes, but has trouble wrapping his arms around the $55K fine. "I don't have that kind of money in 10 years! Fifty-five thousand dollars, no way!" he says.

A $200 or $500 fine, well, that would be acceptable, Ali says.

Still, rules being rules, there remains an escape hatch.

Ali, or anyone else, can send the TECQ written comments to persuade the state regulators to withdraw the shutdown order if heretofore unknown relevant facts are unearthed. The public has 30 days to speak its piece. (If you want to man the barricades, send comments to Jacquelyn Boutwell, Litigation Division, P.O. Box 13087, MC 175, Austin, Texas 78711-3087.)

But, in 30 days, Ali may be at the end of his rope.

"I'm very tired of this location," he says, citing the high rent ($15,000), the narrow margins for gas sales ($1,500 per month) and constant hassles with the homeless, who led him to shut down his car wash, which he says had become a congregation spot that scared away motorists.

He has to call the cops three or four times a day.

"They take the beer and everything. I don't make that much money anyway."

Still, he remained busy serving his customers at the Texaco station on Friday, while muttering something that one supposes can apply to all of us these days.

"Gasoline is very, very bad, my friend."

-- Steve Olafson

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