16 Oct 2017

Small town with big idea finally gets a petrol station

From Checkpoint, 5:55 pm on 16 October 2017

Pongaroa residents will no longer have to travel about two hours to get petrol, with a new station opening there four years after the last one closed. 

Fed up with the long commute to either Pahiatua or Dannevirke to fuel up, Pongaroa locals decided about two years ago to do something about it. 

Since then, the community has raised about $250,000 and formed a first-of-its-kind partnership with Allied Petroleum to open a Fuel Stop outlet in the village.

Pongaroa Fuel Stop Committee member Mark Wheeler said many of the village's 120 residents previously endured an arduous fuel run more than once a week.

"If you're working on a number of properties during the week you might have to make that drive twice to do it and, of course, by the time you get back you've used a quarter of the fuel you've put in the damned thing.

"So people used to go to town with, you know, jerry cans spread all over the back seat."

Mr Wheeler said the committee wrangled $60,000 out of Tararua District Council, got donations, debentures, and took out a loan with Allied to get the project off the ground.

He said residents also got stuck in and got their hands dirty doing groundwork at the site.

"When we said we've got contractors here we can do it ourselves, they probably thought we'd turn up with a couple of old two-wheel-drive tractors and a backhoe.

"In the end, they've actually complimented us when we've finished and said 'we couldn't have got it done better from a civil contractor'."

Pongaroa School administrator Fayln Hoggard said she would not miss the fuel run.

"Somebody like myself would be taking three 20-litre containers in the back of the car - you know, on a weekly or fortnightly basis - as well as filling the car up. 

"You've got to plan for it if you're going for groceries it's all part of the experience."

Ms Hoggard said travellers, who often got stranded in Pongaroa, would also benefit from the new pumps.

"People do happily wander along Route 52 and suddenly find themselves in Pongaroa and there is no petrol station.

"So everybody has had to rally around and point them in the right direction to see if they can fill a can to get them to maybe Dannevirke or Masterton or Pahiatua or wherever the nearest petrol stop would be."

Allied Petroleum general manager Alastair Tennent admitted to being sceptical about the financial viability of a Pongaroa Fuel Stop, but said the locals had shared the risk and forced his hand.

"I would say it's been a real vision and tenacity by a local committee that's got them to where they are today.

"Anyone who had a digger in the district, I'm sure, was pulled in to generously donate their time and their equipment. So, it was a tremendous effort by the locals."

Mr Tennent said Allied put up about $1 million, seeing it as a long-term investment. He said he could see potential for similar deals elsewhere.

"I do have a suspicion that this won't be the last opportunity we have to do something like this. They won't be alone as a small town in New Zealand where people realise that having a public fuel supply is pretty important."

For an exhausted but exhilarated Mr Wheeler, the Fuel Stop - which opened on Saturday - had taken on an almost spiritual quality.

"After it got dark we actually went out ... and you can see it from the hotel, which is about 400m down the road. The sign was illuminated and the site was illuminated and we said to each other that there's no Christmas lights display or fireworks display that could look better than that right now."

The unmanned Fuel Stop will operate 24 hours, seven days a week at the intersection of Route 52, Post Road and the Pahiatua - Pongaroa Road.