The Gas Station Situation

The Gas Station Situation

An open letter from Sean and Laurie Death about Ocracoke Station:

This is the story of the Ocracoke Gas Station where it was and where it went and what happens next.

First and foremost, Laurie and I wish to thank everyone, native, local, and visitors, for the love and support over the years. It has been difficult to let go of something we poured all our time, energy, blood and even some tears into over the last six years.

Those six years ago we walked into a dark, empty building with the goal of saving the island's only gas station. With little to no capital to work with we managed to pay all the bills and slowly build it into a sustainable model relevant to the community while also cultivating a business model catering to island visitors.

Within a short time the Gas Station once again was able to provide year round employment to many folks on the island. We created a consistently reliable service that could be counted on to be open every day year round at 6am. We were proud to be able to provide a reliable service to the island.

We paid the all the mortgages, insurances, and property taxes on the property for the then-landlord from February 2012 until January 2016.

On January 1st of 2016, Laurie and I entered into a contract for deed for the property with the owner as an owner finance to purchase the property. It was an exciting time. We would finally be able to reinvest in the property and give it the curb appeal it so desperately lacked and make the much needed repairs as a result of more than a decade of neglect.

In October of that same year (2016) Hurricane Matthew dealt a devastating blow to the east coast and Ocracoke Island. Some notable casualties on the island where the cancellation of the annual Blackbeard festival, major flood damage to Blackbeard's Lodge, and severe flooding not seen in more than 20 years or more. The National Weather Service was on site and made an official measurement of 17 inches of standing tide inside the Gas Station.

When we first purchased our flood insurance policy, the insurance company came to the island and inside the Gas Station to do an on site audit before writing the policy. They wrote the policy and we paid the premiums.

After the storm and upon contacting the insurance company about the flooding and damages, we were advised by our adjuster that he would be arriving shortly to asses the damages and begin help with the recovery and repair. We were instructed to go ahead and start the demolition and clean out to get the employees back to work and the store and fuel pumps operational for the community. We spent operating account funds and our own money in anticipation of reimbursement and did just that.

The adjuster arrived, he gathered his information, informed us of the process and then left. A week later our adjuster notified us of a problem. The problem he notified us of was that a claim had been filed just 11 months prior to Hurricane Matthew claiming flood damages to the entire building. The former “Owner” took a payout to replace three feet of the entire building, floors, countertops, bathhouses and everything within those boundaries.

It was then explained that the federal government pays out on flood claims through your insurance company. They had discovered that a claim on this property was paid out a year prior and that the photos showed that nothing had been replaced since the last claim and therefore they would not be paying out on the same damaged property twice.

This was a devastating blow as we had used all our savings and working capital to start the tear out and equipment replacement to be able to reopen. Further we can not ever recall a flood that required 3 foot of the building to be replaced, after all, Hurricane Matthew was recorded as one of the highest storm tides in the past 20 or more years.

While this seems like a long time ago, the effects are ongoing and still causing damage. As a result of the walls having been ripped out there was a major loss of insulation. This caused the exposed pipes to freeze over the following winter into 2017. Countless breaks occurred running up repair expenses, extreme water bills and loss of revenue related to closures during repairs..

As the warm season approached, the AC units began to overwork and break down. The entire store inventory was lost more than three times over the 2017 summer season from excessive heat. Racks of candy, cases of products and countless amounts of perishables were lost due to meltdown. This kind of heat also caused many of the refrigerated units to break down. Repair costs continued climbing reaching exhaustive financial totals. Massive inventory losses continued to strain the operating accounts as we tried to restock in an effort to recover.

The main breaker panels that power the store began to overheat and shut down. Salt corrosion, still present in the electrical, walls and outlets continues to cause outages and short circuits.. Because there were no funds to replace and rebuild the current electrical in the building it is the same that was submerged in saltwater flooding during Hurricane Matthew. The main panels overheating caused us to close frequently during some of the busiest times of the summer. Each time this happened we would lose more inventory, prepared food and even beverages that got too warm to recool.

Each time a heavy rain would go over us, water would pour through the roof and down through the second floor, again ruining the inventory on the shelf in the store. The walls have many holes leading right outside allowing for loss of climate and pest control.

Utilities had gotten and continue to be higher than most home mortgages on the island. The constant failures that followed the flooding continue to this day.

Whatever was buried under the campground years and decades ago started a rapid underground settling after the flood receded. This began compromising the underground power and water supply to the campsites, causing continued power outages and low voltage delivery to the campsite hook-ups. The water lines are still constantly breaking underground resulting in extra large water bills (the breaks are so close to the water table, the leaks take months to surface).

For these reasons and the fact the bathhouses are still in disrepair from the flood rip out we could not open the campground. We tried, but no matter what a customer would claim they could do without (power, water, etc.) they still had a bad experience so we just stopped allowing camping.

We have exhausted all financial options to continue the operation and rebuild. We have pursued other persons and business to take over or purchase the contract for deed. So far we have not found any interested parties.

For anyone reading this that may be interested, the rent/mortgage for the last 6 years has been and currently is $7880.00 per month. The power bill averages about $2500.00 - $3200.00 per month between the four power meters required to power the whole property year round. Aside from taxes and insurances, the business model you choose to pursue once in there will dictate the additional overhead.

That very overhead created a very small margin to operate in however, we pulled it off year after year. Not for the money, that wasn't there, but more for the community and the hope that one day we could actually earn an income from it.

The continuing catastrophic failures caused by the flooding of Hurricane Matthew combined with the continued deterioration of conditions as a result of not being able to make repairs has brought us to this point. We will be turning the property back over to the previous owner the contract for deed was with.

The Gas Pumps will continue to operate as they have been, accepting credit and bank cards at the pump 24 hours a day. Our exit has begun and will occur over the course of the next few weeks. We will continue paying the power bill to allow the fuel pumps to operate. At the end of our exit, the only visible change will be that the inside of the store will no longer be open or operating.

Again, we wish to thank everyone who has helped and supported us through this venture since 2012. It certainly has been a life experience we will always remember. And now, Laurie and I will slow down and take a moment to visit the ocean we have heard that exists just across the street from us and take some time to enjoy our island, concentrate on our current life endeavors, and sleep past 4:00 am... 

Sean Death

Ocracoke, NC

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