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The sudden appearance Thursday of a 40-foot fuel tank, not unlike a giant grain silo, symbolized the future availability of alternative fuels for the Southern Oregon region.

Depending on construction schedules, Central Point could be the site of the state’s first liquefied natural gas station.

Central Point is seeking bids to convert public vehicles from petroleum-based fuels to propane as part of a federally funded $100,000 project.

Working with Rogue Valley Transportation District, the city is seeking bids for retrofitting a total of 19 public vehicles — 12 from the city’s public works and police fleet and seven from RVTD’s fleet of vans used for its “Valley Lift” service.

Funding for the project came from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program.

Senior RVTD planner Paige Townsend said her agency planned to purchase kits and convert new vehicles at the time of purchase. RVTD operates a large fleet of vehicles with a range of alternative fuel types, including propane and natural gas.

Central Point parks and public works director Matt Samitore said the cost savings were hard to ignore for the city.

“With propane at around $1 versus $4 for gasoline fuel,” he said, “we’re looking at really making efficient use of taxpayer funds.”

Located on the south side of the Pilot Travel Center behind Holiday Inn Express, the station broke ground in March as one of three of its kind in Oregon.

A station in Portland is slated for completion between year’s end and early 2013 while a Stanfield station in northeastern Oregon is on a similar construction path and could open just weeks before the Pine Street locale.

Pilot and Clean Energy (www.cleanenergyfuels.com) are collaborating to build 150 stations spanning from coast to coast. The liquefied natural gas stations are touted as a clean and cost-saving energy supply.

All told, Clean Energy operates some 60 tankers that make more than 5,000 deliveries of liquefied gas each year.

Clean Cities Coalition member Gary Hall, a private truck stop consultant, said the availability of alternative fuels would provide local and state businesses and government entities more cost-effective and environmentally friendly fueling alternatives.

“It’s always been kind of a chicken and egg situation; You’ve got to have the fuel before you buy the vehicle,” Hall said, noting that Pilot Travel Centers have agreed, for up to five years, to ensure that natural gas is at least $1 cheaper than alternatives.

“This is an awesome opportunity for our valley to have liquid natural gas available,” Hall added.

“There are places with compressed fuel — although Pilot won’t offer compressed until there’s a demand — but liquid natural gas is going in across the country to get trucking companies on board.”

Representatives for Clean Energy were unavailable on Thursday.

Central Point parks and public works Director Matt Samitore said availability of the liquefied natural gas would likely find the city considering the fuel source for part of its fleet.

Samitore said savings in fuel costs, and other benefits such as air quality and vehicle efficiency were a positive “double whammy” for the region.

“It’s a double whammy in the sense that we get the cost savings and that it’s also much better for the environment.”

Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

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