Carroll County gas station owners can now apply for county grants of up to $22,000 to pay for improvements at their facilities that will allow people to get gas in case of a significant power outage.

County government officials announced the formation of the Carroll County Service Station Energy Resiliency Grant Program on Friday. The county will provide grant money so that at least five service stations around Carroll can outfit their facilities with whatever is needed to pump gas when the electrical grid goes down.

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"We want to be better prepared in case we have an extended power outage across the county," said Doug Brown, the county's emergency management coordinator.

The establishment of the program was the brainchild of Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4. Rothschild said he developed the idea while the Carroll County Board of Commissioners was reviewing emergency plans.

"In the event of a county-wide crisis, the assumption was that the number one coping mechanism would be mass evacuation by private automobile," Rothschild said. "I asked the obvious question, 'It's 3 o'clock in the morning, Carroll County gets evacuated and the gas gauge is nearly on empty. How do they get fuel?' When I realized that we did not have capabilities for pumping in the event the grid went down, I said that the first thing we need to do is get fuel."

The board of commissioners allocated $225,000 in 2013 to prepare the county in case a natural or man-made emergency shuts down power. The county plans to use $110,000 of that amount to make the gas station improvements.

Some gas stations may require few improvements and need less grant money, Brown said, while others may need larger improvements and more grant money, Brown said.

"With each station, it's probably going to vary," Brown said. "We won't know until we get the grant application packages back."

Rothschild said the funding for the program was an investment in the county's emergency infrastructure. Rothschild compared the program to purchasing insurance — because you buy it just in case something goes wrong.

"I think it's prudent and overdue," Rothschild said. "I think it's appropriate for government to put protections in place so, God forbid, if there was a crisis or the grid went down, we would have some way to pump fuel in emergency situations."

The grant program application and guidelines include numerous safety, environmental and financial regulations that the interested gas station owners would have to comply with. There is no provision in the guidelines, however, preventing station owners from price gouging during emergency situations.

Gas station owners have until the end of September to submit applications to Carroll County government. A panel will review the applications and choose which ones will receive grant money, Brown said.

To date, neither the structure nor the membership of the application panel have been developed, Brown said.

Reach staff writer Christian Alexandersen at 410-857-7873 or christian. alexandersen@carrollcountytimes.com.

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