Public bus natural gas fueling station opens in Donora

Scott Beveridge
Observer Reporter

A public bus service is contributing to cleaner air at a former steel mill site that helped to cause the nation’s deadliest air pollution disaster in 1948 in Donora.

The Mid Mon Valley Transit Authority opened a compressed natural gas fueling station for its fleet of buses at former U.S. Steel property in an area where fog trapped pollution over three days killing at least 22 people and sickening thousands of others, an event the led to the nation’s first clean air legislation.

“It’s ironic that we’re on an old steel mill site that an one time caused the Donora smog 69 years ago,” said Donna Weckoski, the authority’s executive director.

“We’re bringing clean air to Donora,” Weckoski said Tuesday, when the authority held grand opening ceremonies for the fueling station and a renovated bus garage in a large brick building once used by the mill at East Eighth Street and Galiffa Drive.

The state Department of Transportation, under a public-private partnership known as CNG P3, contracted with Trillium Transportation Services to design, build and maintain the $2 million station in Donora and 28 others across the state. The stations, when in operation, will save transit agencies $10 million in fuel costs, savings that will lead to improved bus services, said Scott Zeevaart of Gannett Fleming.

The authority will pay for the natural gas it needs and the electricity to compress it into fuel, Zeevaart said. The authority is located in Charleroi and will use fuel developed by the Marcellus Shale natural gas exploration operations, many of which are in Washington County.

“We need to capitalize on our natural gas,” Washington County Commission Chairman Larry Maggi said before ribbon-cutting ceremonies were held at the site.

Eight of the authority’s fleet of 29 buses are designed to be fueled by natural gas, and it has seven others like them on order and scheduled for delivery in August 2018, Weckoski said. The authority offers local bus local lines and regular scheduled trips between California Borough and Pittsburgh, through its private contractor, Mon Valley Transportation.

Meanwhile, the authority invested $4.9 million in funds from various sources to rehabilitate the bus storage facility