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Non-ethanol fuel catches on at north country gas stations; Nice N Easy is latest to join trend

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Ethanol is a renewable energy source that produces less air pollution than pure gasoline. But to a man who starts a lawn mower on a hot afternoon to be greeted by the abrasive sound of a failing engine, it’s a source of irritation.

Ethanol-free gasoline has made a strong comeback at gas stations in the north country, however, with Nice N Easy recently joining Fastrac Markets and many marinas by offering the premium fuel at its pumps. The 91 octane, non-ethanol gasoline was launched about two weeks ago at 14 Nice N Easy locations in the north country. The stores are co-owned by franchisee Edward J. Valentine, who did not return calls seeking comment.

The more pricey ethanol-free variety has become a niche fuel for owners of lawn mowers, snowblowers, dirt bikes and power boats that have small engines that can be harmed by ethanol. Fastrac introduced non-ethanol gasoline at 45 upstate locations in the summer of 2012, including locations in Watertown on Arsenal and State streets, and in Lowville on Shady Avenue.

On Tuesday, staffers at the Nice N Easy in Sackets Harbor, 13821 Route 3, said the store has been swamped by boaters who’ve filled up with the new fuel en route to Henderson Harbor, where they launch boats on Lake Ontario.

“Every year, ethanol gums up the motor in my boat, so I need to get it serviced,” said Sackets Harbor resident George M. McCulloch, who visited the store Tuesday. He plans to fill up his 20-foot fishing boat with 50 gallons of the ethanol-free fuel here before launching it in a slip at Madison Barracks Marina, which sits on Black River Bay.

“Non-ethanol fuel is great,” he said. “It’s horrible what ethanol does, particularly to inboard-outboard motors. It just gums it right up.”

When motors are running, ethanol-based gasoline tends to separate water and fuel to disrupt the operation of fuel pumps and carburetors. It gradually collects moisture if left in equipment for long periods, corroding carburetors until machines don’t start.

Most of the marinas in the Thousand Islands region began offering ethanol-free fuel last year, said David E. Cornell, co-owner of Cornell’s Marina in Henderson Harbor. Though the marina doesn’t offer fuel, it frequently repairs the carburetors of boat engines that have been destroyed by ethanol-based gas.

The trend at marinas “really started last year of giving ethanol-free gas,” Mr. Cornell said. “Before marinas got ethanol-free, I was selling K100 fuel treatment because that’s the only thing that would keep the carburetor burning the fuel. We have a lot of people with carburetor problems here, because they don’t buy (fuel treatment) for the problem. It’s caused by water that gets into the gas. Ethanol that’s open to the atmosphere draws 10 percent moisture, so 1,000 gallons of gas can draw 100 gallons of water.”

Though using fuel treatment can solve the problem, Mr. Cornell said, more boaters are now using only ethanol-free fuel to be on the safe side.

“I think people are getting close to being educated about this,” he said.

Ethanol-free fuel also is a boon for yard equipment. A pair of friends eating lunch at the Subway inside the Sackets Harbor store Tuesday said they both filled up 5-gallon containers with the premium fuel during the past two weeks, to be used for lawn mowers, weed trimmers and other yard equipment. Three Mile Bay resident Lyle M. Weaver said his lawn mower’s carburetor has been repaired twice as a result of using gas with ethanol.

“I treated the fuel with an additive for ethanol and still had problems,” he said.

The price of ethanol-free premium gasoline Thursday at the store was $4.15 per gallon, compared with $3.70 for regular unleaded. Mr. Weaver’s friend Tedd R. Jamieson said treating gasoline with additives for ethanol has kept his yard equipment operating. Even so, he’s now willing to purchase the ethanol-free variety at a higher cost to avoid problems.

“It costs more, but I now don’t have to buy the treatment,” he said.

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