UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State's decision to enforce a portable generator ban in tailgate parking lots for the first time this season has some football fans upset and confused, especially those in the overnight parking lots.
Without the portable generators, tailgaters can't get electricity to run refrigerators, televisions, heat and other electrical necessities in their recreational vehicles, said Hazel Bilka, who has been spending home game weekends in the lot for the past 20 years.
Generators built into vehicles are still permitted.
The ban could prevent Bilka and many others from staying overnights in the lots, especially once the weather becomes cooler, she said.
"I don't think that whoever made this decision had a real good understanding that we need [generators] here," Bilka of Altoona said. "If they're truly eliminating them, then that's eliminating about half of us who stay in these lots."
The rule was put into place a number of years ago by the Penn State athletic department upon recommendation from the university's risk management and environmental health groups, according to Associate Athletic Director Mark Bodenschatz.
He said the rule wasn't heavily enforced in recent years, but the increasing use of portable generators in the lots forced the university to take a stronger stance on the ban this season.
The ban was listed in a rulebook sent to tailgaters with their parking passes and season tickets.
A notice informing tailgaters about the ban, which athletic department staff has been handing out in the lots, cited disturbing noise, carbon monoxide emissions and dangers associated with storage and handling of the gasoline used to fuel generators as reasons for the enforcement.
Bilka first received a copy of the notice the afternoon before the Sept. 18 game against Kent State.
"Coming before the second [home] game passing out papers and acting indignant doesn't seem to me to be the Penn State way of doing things," Bilka said, adding that officials wouldn't listen to her and her fellow tailgaters' grievances. "I feel like tailgating should be a positive experience for everyone, with a lot of camaraderie, and I think this has been handled so poorly on the university's part."
The athletic department is concerned about the tailgaters who are upset, but its predominant concern is life safety, Bodenschatz said.
He noted there have been complaints of carbon monoxide sensors going off in RVs adjacent to portable generators, and he referred to an incident a number of years ago when someone attempted to fill a hot generator and caused a fire.
"There's a pretty significant hazard with the gasoline, especially in the overnight lot where RVs are parked pretty closely together," Bodenschatz said. "It's not unreasonable to imagine it turning tragic pretty quickly."
Altoona resident Stephen Suter, who tailgates with Bilka, said that people have been using portable generators out in the open for years and shouldn't be punished because one person had an accident.
"Most everyone there knows what they're doing and is careful about it," Suter said.
Bodenschatz also said the gasoline could leak or spill on university property, which could seep into the ground and contaminate water.
Most of the newer portable generators on the market are not only quiet, but also have less emissions than a golf cart, according to Steve Seltzer, president of Steve Seltzer Honda in Altoona.
"Some of the newer models also operate so quietly it's even less noise than speech," Seltzer, who has been tailgating at games since 1975, said.
Seltzer also said gas spillage could be prevented by using spillproof cans so effective you could "fill a shot glass" with them.
He said he would argue that portable generators may be even less dangerous than built-in ones, depending on how old they are.
"If it's an old generator and it's noisy or emitting too much exhaust or carbon monoxide, then that's different and the university needs to set a standard," he said. "You don't have to ban all of them."
The Honda Corp. - which advertises at Beaver Stadium and other universities all over the country - is at odds with Penn State over the issue, and is revisiting the relationship it has with the school, according to Senior District Sales Manager Stephen Schaffner.
"I'd understand the ban if the concerns were legitimate, but to me they aren't," Schaffner said. "I don't understand it; it's like they're trying to take some of the fun out of tailgating at Penn State."
None of the other schools where Honda Corp. advertises at football games have banned portable generators, including Ohio State, other schools in the Big 10 Conference and many schools in the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference, Schaffner said.
Seltzer pointed out that Penn State uses portable generators to power emergency lighting outside the stadium, and that Honda supplies the athletic department with use of two portable generators.
"To me it seems like a 'do as I say, not as I do,' kind of thing, something I sometimes call 'the golden rule,'" Seltzer said. "Those who have the gold make the rules."
According to the athletic department, Penn State does use generators, but not in the vicinity of parked cars, which eliminates the issues they say caused the ban.
Mirror Staff Writer Scott Muska is at 946-7435.