'Don't panic,' says Walton official as run on gas pumps creates shortages

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — "The message is 'Don't panic,' " Walton County Emergency Management Director Jeff Goldberg told county commissioners during a brief presentation at Tuesday's commission meeting on the local impact of the shutdown of a major oil pipeline to the north and west of Florida.

The 5,500-mile pipeline — which runs from Texas to the eastern United States and carries tens of millions of gallons each day — was shut down as the result of a cyberattack in recent days. The shutdown has touched off a run on gas pumps both locally and elsewhere as worried motorists and workers have rushed to fill their tanks.

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Colonial Pipeline, the Georgia-headquartered company which operates the pipeline, has indicated that the pipeline could be restored to service by the end of this week. Nonetheless, the gasoline-buying frenzy appeared to be continuing locally Wednesday.  

But meanwhile, Goldberg said the good news for Walton County and the rest of the area is that Colonial Pipeline "doesn't feed any of the gas stations within the state of Florida." Instead, area supplies come from the port of Jacksonville, and as a back-up from the port of Tampa, he explained.

However, Goldberg did tell commissioners that those ports are seeing increased demand as tanker trucks from out of state come into Florida to get gasoline to take elsewhere in the country, thus affecting deliveries to local gas stations.

"(T)here's an increased demand on the ports that's causing a little bit of a slowdown on some of the gas coming out to the gas stations within the state of Florida," Goldberg said.

That slowdown is being exacerbated by people rushing to pump more gas than they immediately need, he added.

"We're starting to see some of the shortages are due to people going out and filling up gas cans and storing all of that," Goldberg told commissioners.

In a move aimed at counteracting the rush on local gasoline pumps, Goldberg said the county would be using its social media channels to discourage buying gasoline for storage at home.

'We're not directly impacted'

"We're going to do some public messaging to let them (the public) know what's going on, that we're not directly impacted by pipeline issues, so they don't need to be basically filling up all these gas cans and putting a strain on the system," Goldberg said. 

Whether that messaging was working Wednesday appeared to be an open question, at least anecdotally. At one convenience store/gas station on Scenic Gulf Drive in Miramar Beach, vehicles were lined up at gas pumps in the morning. By afternoon, as vehicles continued to circle through the parking lot, the pump handles were covered with yellow plastic signifying no regular gas was available. Signs affixed to the pumps announced that gas supplies were constrained.  

A lone work truck sits at the gas pumps at a convenience store on Scenic Gulf Drive in Walton County on Wednesday. Gas pump handles were covered with yellow plastic, and signs on the pumps explained the fuel shortage issue.

Goldberg also told commissioners Tuesday that the county government's messaging on the gasoline supply issues also will stress that "we have plenty of fuel, (so) please don't fill up 15 or 20 gas cans and store them in your garage, because that's (creating) a safety hazard on top of other things as well."

Commission approves strategic goals 

In other business Tuesday, commissioners approved a set of strategic goals for the upcoming fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1. The unanimous vote marked the first time in five years that the commission had formally adopted a set of strategic goals.

The goals, resulting from individual discussions by commissioners with Dede Hinote, the county's deputy administrator, were adopted with just one change. Among the original goals was the continued development of a master plan for handling stormwater in the southern end of the county. At the suggestion of Commissioner Danny Glidewell, that goal was changed to development of a stormwater master plan for the entire county.

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Among other strategic goals noted in the approved proposal were meeting infrastructure needs to promote business opportunities along U.S. Highway 90, which roughly parallels Interstate 10 in the northern part of the county; investigating options to improve water quality across the county; and in an indication of support for the ongoing development of a comprehensive mobility plan for the county, to "continue to develop and monitor a countywide transportation system ... ."

The county currently is working with NUE Urban Concepts, a transportation consulting firm, on developing a mobility plan that will, broadly, focus on moving people rather than vehicles around the county. As proposed, the plan calls for implementation of a mobility fee on new development, and also envisions an array of road, pedestrian, bicycle and other projects, including parking.

In other action Tuesday related to the mobility plan, commissioners approved a schedule of presentations on the proposal by county planning officials during the next several weeks for the city councils of DeFuniak Springs, Paxton and Freeport.

Commissioners previously had expressed an interest in getting feedback from the cities, which can become part of the plan if they choose, and in any case will be impacted by plan-related transportation projects in the unincorporated parts of the county.