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Service stations feel the pain, too

Motorists aren’t the only one’s getting squeezed at the pump these days.

Service stations across the state are facing a deadline to install vapor recovery systems that cost tens of thousands of dollars as part of a decades-long push to replace underground tanks and control emissions by the California Air Resource Board.

“Gas is a toxic substance and a highly regulated business,” said Joe Fish, the air pollution control officer for the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District.



As many as 10,000 of 13,000 stations in the state need to install vapor recovery systems by April 1, 2009, or face steep fines or the loss of operating permits, state officials say.

In Nevada, Sierra and Plumas counties, 35 service stations have not yet complied, while 22 others either have or are in the process of complying, Fish said.




One of those is Art Harris, who has owned a gasoline station and auto repair business for 25 years in Cedar Ridge. It will cost his two-pump station around $37,000 to get dripless nozzles, a tank to store excess vapors and other equipment to meet the latest round of state mandates for service stations.

Since Harris applied early for assistance, a grant from the state’s Rust Program is covering his costs. Previously, though, he had to borrow $225,000 to replace an underground storage tank that he said was not leaking.

“That was a lot of money I paid out for nothing,” Harris said recently. “But you have to abide by the regulations.”

Other independent stations that want to apply for a Rust Program grant may be out of luck because the program is running out of money, said Cindy Castronovo, an air pollution specialist with the state.

“We’ve exhausted all our funds this fiscal year and a lot of money next year is already spoken for,” she said.

Service stations that are part of a franchise must foot their own bills for the vapor recovery systems. According to a report prepared for the Nevada City council, the Chevron station on Sacramento Street recently paid between $50,00 and $60,000 for its new system. Calls to the corporate office to confirm the cost were not returned.

Vapor recovery systems are part of the state’s ongoing effort to reduce the amount of ozone in the atmosphere.

The system removes vapors from a vehicle’s gasoline tank while it is being refueled. The vapors are then collected in an underground tank. The vapor recovery system also has an above-ground tank that captures vapors when the underground tank is full.

Tankers then collect the vapors and take them back to refineries where they are reformulated into gasoline.

Harris said the regulations have been burdensome for his station, which makes most of its money making repairs.

“We’re not in this for the gasoline business,” he said, estimating his station was selling around 16,000 gallons of gasoline a month before prices shot up. “We do this mostly for the convenience of the customers.”

To contact Staff Writer Pat Butler, e-mail pbutler@theunion.com or call 477-4239.


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