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N.J. Gov. Christie enacts rationing to ease long waits at gas stations

By Scott Fallon, Lindy Washburn, Kim Lueddeke and Tatiana Schlossberg, The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) –

HACKENSACK, N.J. —In an effort to prevent a fuel shortage and ease waiting times at gas stations, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie enacted odd-even gas rationing beginning at noon Saturday in Bergen, Passaic and 10 other northern New Jersey counties.

Motorists with license plates ending with an odd number can purchase gas only on an odd calendar day, while those whose plates end in an even number can go to the pump on even days under the executive order Christie signed on Friday night.

Other counties affected by the rationing are Morris, Hudson, Essex, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Monmouth, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren. Specialized plates or those not displaying a number will be considered odd-numbered plates. Customers walking to stations can fill their gas cans on any day.

“This system will ease the strain on those gas stations still operating while we work to bring more online for the public to access fuel, in a manner that is fair, easy to understand, and less stressful,” Christie said in a statement.

Christie and state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa pledged strict enforcement of the restriction.

“Those who choose to disregard this order will be prosecuted to the fullest extent permitted under the governor’s state of emergency authority,” Chiesa said.

The order came as the gasoline crisis caused by Hurricane Sandy entered its fourth day with 80 percent of stations in northern New Jersey still closed because they had no fuel, no power or both.

On Friday, tensions flared at stations in every corner of Bergen and Passaic counties as motorists waited for hours in lines that stretched for miles. Fights erupted at several stations, including an alleged assault on a Fort Lee police officer by a disgruntled motorist in the pre-dawn hours. In Clifton, officers reported having to quell numerous disputes from angry customers. “The bottom line is, it’s going to continue until the gas situation is over,” Clifton Det. Sgt. Robert Bracken said.

Christie’s order surprised Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline C-Store Automotive Association, which represents 1,500 stations. “I don’t think it’s necessary, but there has to be something that quiets the storm,” he said.

Before the order, fuel industry experts like Risalvato said that lines for gasoline should decrease significantly over the weekend as more stations are expected to regain power, but “any return to normalcy” at the pumps in North Jersey may last well into next week.

Hurricane Sandy knocked out the entire distribution system for gasoline in northern New Jersey, closed the port of New York and New Jersey, shut down the second-largest refinery on the East Coast and left hundreds of gas stations without power.

Christie said Friday that he wants power companies to restore electricity in areas where gas stations are closed. The state’s largest gas station association is compiling a list of its 1,500 stations that have no power.

“We’re going to go to PSE&G and JCP&L and say prioritize certain communities that have no gas station working,” Christie said.

“The gas situation should be figured out in the next 24 to 48 hours,” he said. “It’s not just a supply issue, it is a power issue and we were not frankly, in the private sector, prepared for this widespread loss of power.”

If the strategy works, “the total situation should ease by the end of the weekend,” said Risalvato. “The pieces of the puzzle will start fitting together.”

But, he added, “There’s not going to be any return to normalcy at least through the end of next week.”

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