South Bend plans to co-own gas station

By the end of this year, the City of South Bend and its taxpayers could be the co-owners of a gas station.

The planned $2 million fueling facility would be open to the general public and would pump compressed natural gas exclusively.

“In South Bend we are breaking out of our fossil fuel dependency,” said South Bend Energy Director Jonathan Burke.

South Bend now has four trash trucks that run on natural gas at the equivalent of 73 cents a gallon, although the price pales in comparison to the to the amount of time lost.

With the current technology it takes about eight painstaking hours per truck to re-fill the fuel tank.

“We need to be able to pull into a facility, fuel the busses or the vehicles in the same amount of time it would take to fill with gasoline or diesel,” said Burke.

So the city has teamed up with the local bus company, TRANSPO. Each will pony up nearly $1 million to build, own and operate what is called a fast fill facility.

The station would be the first of its kind in northern Indiana. It would allow compressed natural gas to be pumped at the speed of gasoline.

“It’s kind of the chicken or the egg, who is going to go first?” said TRANSPO General Manager David Cangany.
“It makes sense when gas prices are, cash prices are $3.50, $4 a gallon, you know, we have to find something different. We have to change the way we do business.”

The City of South Bend just went out for bids on 36 police cruisers that can run on compressed natural gas. Over the next five years, plans call for 65 percent of the city’s total fleet to be converted.

While the station will be open to the public, “We will not be serving hot dogs and Slurpees, want the public to come in, fuel up, and head out,” said Cangany.

What promises to save money for the city and the bus company, could do likewise for the citizenry.

“One of the driving factors in this decision was there are so many entities around the city that would like to use alternate fuels, but they weren't able to facilitate the construction of their own station,” said Jonathan Burke.
TRANSPO received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to cover its portion of the project.

At Monday night’s South Bend Common Council meeting, members will be asked to approve $972,000 in local option income tax funds to cover the city’s contribution. The city estimates that the facility would pay for itself in about four and a half years.

The station would be located at the TRANSPO headquarters in Ignition Park and plans call for the facility to open by the end of 2014.

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