Gas Stations Close Under Government Pressure

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The only gasoline station in Young, an isolated town 55 miles by road east of Payson, will continue to fill tanks this week despite new federal standards that require the station to close its pumps.

Pleasant Valley Auto Center is one of three independently owned service stations in the Rim country that didn't meet a federal deadline Tuesday to upgrade their underground storage tanks to prevent leaks.

A station in Christopher Creek and a station in Tonto Basin have closed their fueling operations as a result.

Pleasant Valley Auto, which is the only fuel depot within 40 miles of Young, a community of more than 800 residents, will continue selling gasoline until its tanks run dry, mechanic Kenny Pearce said.

By the time the station sells the 3,000 gallons of fuel left in its tanks, owner Tom Rye hopes to have a permit for a 5,000-gallon above-ground storage tank to continue operations, Pearce said. Rye was out of town Wednesday and couldn't be reached for comment.

If the pumps run dry before Rye can switch tanks, residents in Young will have to drive 80 miles round-trip to Heber or 110 miles round-trip to Payson to fuel up.

Fines: $11,000 daily
Station owners, who were given 10 years to comply with the regulations, must stop selling gasoline until they upgrade their tanks or face fines of up to $11,000 a day.

Red Armstead, the owner of the Chevron station in Christopher Creek halfway between Payson and Young, decided to turn off his pumps rather than upgrade his tanks.

The station, which sold its last gallon of fuel Tuesday, had provided Young residents with a 30-mile drive, lower-cost alternative to Pleasant Valley Auto's $1.49-a-gallon unleaded fuel prices.

"I've been trying to comply (with the government's standards) for six years, but they kept changing the rules on me," Armstead said. "I've been in this business for 37 years and I'm a little bitter. You think you're doing some good for people and then something like this happens."

The station, which drew customers from Christopher Creek, Mead's Ranch, Young and Highway 260, sold 500,000 gallons of gasoline a year, Armstead said. Until the station closed its pumps Wednesday, it was the only gasoline station between Payson and Heber.

Armstead, who will continue to provide towing and repair services, has no plans to reopen his fueling operation.

Leaking poison
The stiffer tank regulations, which went into effect midnight Tuesday, were designed to stop spills and leaks that could poison ground water. Over the past decade, 330,000 corroded or defective tanks across the nation leaked gasoline into the ground, reported the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. Eight thousand of those tanks were in Arizona.

Department of Environmental Quality officials expected 2,220 of the state's 9,000 service stations to miss the Dec. 22 deadline, the Arizona Republic reported Tuesday.

The station at Jake's Corner in Tonto Basin west of Roosevelt Lake was one of them.

"We'll be closed indefinitely," one of the owners, Desi Morris, said. "We're working on plans for an above-ground fuel tank, but right now we're closed until further notice."

Motorists and boaters can still fuel up on their way to Roosevelt Lake, however, at the Butcher Hook Gas Station east of Jake's Corner on Highway 188. The Butcher Hook station upgraded its tanks and is still open.

State offers grants
Morris at Jake's Corner said she has applied for one of the state grants available for small-station operators to help them replace or upgrade their storage tanks, but she doesn't expect a decision until March.

So far, 60 grants have been distributed at an average cost of $50,000 to $70,000 a grant, the Republic reported. Department of Environmental Quality officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The newly enacted regulations affect government institutions as well as private businesses.

In September, the Town of Payson began preparing for Tuesday's deadline by removing its underground gasoline tanks used to store bulk fuel for town vehicles from the town yard near Green Valley Park. The town now contracts for fuel through Pacific Pride, a card-lock gasoline station off Longhorn Road.

"It was more economical to switch to Pacific Pride than to do our own bulk storage," Town Engineer LaRon Garrett said.

The town also is removing underground fuel tanks at Payson Municipal Airport and replacing them with two above-ground fuel tanks -- one for airplane fuel and one for jet fuel.

Town officials ordered the tanks in July and expected to receive them in October, but a crush of last-minute orders pushed the manufacturer behind schedule, Garrett said. The two new tanks, which finally arrived last week, cost the town $200,000, Garrett said.

Officials expect to spend an additional $20,000 removing the old tanks. The airport and town yard tank sites will be tested in January for fuel contamination. If any leaks are discovered, the town will have to pay to clean them up, Garrett said.

Town officials chose above-ground tanks instead of underground tanks because they're easier to monitor for leaks and cost about half as much to install as underground tanks, Garrett said.

The new airport tanks won't be installed until the first week in January. In the meantime, airport officials are storing airplane and jet fuel in tanker trucks to keep pilots on the move.

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