Virginia City to get gas
Widespread support for gas pumps prompts council to approve
VIRGINIA CITY—After six decades without it, Virginia City is finally getting some gas.
At its monthly meeting on Thursday, August 2, the Virginia City town council voted to approve a project that has been on the minds of residents for years—the installation of a functioning gas station.
The primary concern about a gas station in Virginia City has been the preservation of the town’s carefully maintained historic appearance.
The council held a public hearing before its regular meeting to allow for public feedback and questions before construction begins, which included a presentation by Montana Heritage Commission executive director Elijah Allen, who explained the ways in which the new installation will remain true to Virginia City’s history and image.
Allen noted that the Heritage Commission is working with representatives from the History Channel to ensure that the area fits in with the historical accuracy of Virginia City. The functioning pumps (which the town hasn’t had since the 1950s) will be outfitted to look like the ones that were installed at the original Carriage House on the east end of town. The building itself will serve as the Virginia City Information Center.
“It will look exactly like it did in the 1950s,” Allen said, “including color schemes and everything.” He said that upwards of 95 percent of the businesses on Wallace Street in downtown Virginia City are in strong support of the new station.
The project is not a new idea for Virginia City residents, who are ready to see construction move forward.
Mayor Justin Gatewood brought to the meeting a petition with the signatures of dozens of residents in support of the installation, and residents who attended the meeting also voiced their support.
“Since I’m really the de facto gas station in this town, I’d really like to pass that to someone else,” said Roger Williams. “It keeps the money here in town. I think it’s a really great thing.” Williams has a small gas pump, and has been known to rescue a driver or two who found themselves stuck in a tight spot with an empty tank.
Bill Moore noted that the current lack of a gas station could be a deterrent for tourists planning their trip through Nevada City and Virginia City. He says the new installation will fill that void and keep more people visiting.
“It gives the people who want to visit one less reason not to get here,” Moore said. “I think it’s a huge plus.” Most in attendance agreed when a resident noted how much she disliked having to drive all the way into Ennis in the winter just to get gas.
The gas station will be owned and operated by the Montana Heritage Commission, Allen noted after an audience question. He also made the point that there will be a deed restriction that will prevent the station from conducting any retail sales. All this was in an effort to ensure that it doesn’t turn into a “convenience store,” Allen said.
The new gas station won’t have retail items in keeping with that deed restriction, but it will have unleaded and diesel gas year-round. The information center will only be open during the town’s peak season of May-September.
Allen also outlined where the money was coming to fund the new project.
The MHC is funded primarily through three avenues, he said:
• An annual bed tax allocation of $400,000.
• A voluntary vehicle tax for residents who drive with the MHC license plate, of which MHC receives 38 cents per dollar.
• Revenue from the thousands of summer tourists who pass through Virginia and Nevada cities.
But, said Allen, there is a fourth source for this project, which only happens “once in a very blue moon.”
During the last legislative session, an audit was conducted on Montana’s state parks that revealed over $11 million in funding that had gone unspent. As a consequence of that audit, some of those dollars got reallocated in what Allen calls “long-range agency funding,” and MHC received about $2 million of that, which has gone toward a variety of projects.
About $1 million of that allocation was used last year to fund extensive remodels on both Virginia City’s Fairweather Inn and the Nevada City Cabins, which both house hundreds of tourists each summer. It also helped to expand seasonal housing for interpreters and seasonal employees in the two towns and funded the remodel of several nearby vacation rentals.
The rest of that money will go toward the new Virginia City Information Center and the accompanying gas station, Allen said. With the board’s vote and existing DEQ, EPA and Department of Transportation approvals, the project is set to move forward.
Gatewood brought up one final concern, asking about the potential for traffic congestion around that area of Virginia City. Allen noted that the new gas station likely would lead to more traffic at that intersection at the town’s east end, but the board’s ultimate feeling was that the benefits outweighed the added vehicle numbers.
“Of course, there’s a chance for congestion,” Allen said. “But look at Wallace Street already.”
Now that the board has approved the addition, construction on Virginia City’s new gas station can start in earnest. Allen estimates the new facility will be up and running by this fall.
The council also decided that it plans to approve amendments to the town’s sign ordinances at its next meeting. It will be the resolution of a drawn-out process of change that has lasted the better part of a year.