City coun­cil looks at com­pressed nat­u­ral gas fa­cil­ity

The Covington News - - News - GABRIEL KHOULI Staff Re­porter

In the wake of ev­er­in­creas­ing diesel and gaso­line prices, Cov­ing­ton of­fi­cials con­tinue to warm to the idea of build­ing a com­pressed nat­u­ral gas fu­el­ing fa­cil­ity that would be avail­able to the city and public.

The coun­cil reached an in­for­mal con­sen­sus Wed­nes­day night to move ahead with an en­gi­neer­ing study for a com­pressed nat­u­ral gas (CNG) fa­cil­ity; an of­fi­cial vote is ex­pected to be taken at Mon­day’s coun­cil meet­ing. A ball­park fig­ure for the cost of the study was not avail­able, though grant writer Randy Con­ner said he could have it be­fore Mon­day’s meet­ing.

Once the study is com­pleted, the city would de­cide whether to spend ap­prox­i­mately $1.9 mil­lion to build a CNG fu­el­ing fa­cil­ity.

Con­ner and Bill Meecham, di­rec­tor of the city’s public ser­vices di­vi­sion, met with Snap­ping Shoals EMC fleet em­ploy­ees be­cause Snap­ping Shoals has a pri­vate fu­el­ing sta­tion at its Brown Bridge Road lo­ca­tion and 25 Cng-pow­ered trucks. The Snap­ping Shoals EMC fleet is also plan­ning to con­vert an ad­di­tional 25 trucks to run on CNG.

Con­ner said he was told it costs Snap­ping Shoals $8,100 to con­vert a truck to run on CNG and they re­coup those con­ver­sion costs by sav­ing on fuel, pass­ing the break even point at 60,000 miles. Fleet Ser­vices Di­rec­tor Jeff Mor­gan pre­vi­ously told The News that Snap­ping Shoals saved around $280,000 by us­ing CNG ve­hi­cles be­tween 1999 and 2007, based on his cal­cu­la­tions.

Con­ner said the con­ver­sion costs for the city should be sim­i­lar and can be han­dled in house, as­sum­ing a me­chanic re­ceives train­ing. In ad­di­tion, Con­ner said the city should be able to buy its CNG for an even cheaper price, for an

even cheaper price, al­low­ing it to re­cover costs af­ter 45,000 to 50,000 miles.

Coun­cil­man Keith Dal­ton said he thought this was a great op­por­tu­nity not only for Cov­ing­ton, but also for the New­ton County School Sys­tem if it even­tu­ally chose to con­vert some of its school buses to run on CNG. Con­ner said a stan­dard school bus model has not yet been cre­ated to run on CNG. The is­sue is that the CNG tanks take a lot of space to store.

Con­ner said he also spoke to Sher­iff Ezell Brown about the pos­si­bil­ity of con­vert­ing ve­hi­cles to CNG. Ac­cel­er­a­tion and per­for­mance of CNG en­gines did not pre­vi­ously match gaso­line en­gines per­for­mance, but Con­ner said re­cent ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy have equal­ized the play­ing field.

An­other hope is that a CNG fu­el­ing fa­cil­ity would cre­ate a rev­enue stream for the city be­cause it could sell CNG to other agen­cies and the public.

Mayor Ron­nie John­ston asked if there was a way for the city to claim and pro­tect its im­me­di­ate ter­ri­tory, sim­i­lar to a fran­chise. City Man­ager Steve Hor­ton said that idea could be ac­com­plished by the city sim­ply re­fus­ing to sell CNG to a com­pany that wanted to open up a pri­vate fu­el­ing sta­tion. When asked if the city would have to sell CNG to some­one who wanted to com­pete, City At­tor­ney Ed Crudup said no.

The hope would be for the city to be­come part of a CNG fu­el­ing net­work that would at­tract area driv­ers, as well as trac­tor trailer trucks driv­ing on the In­ter- state 20 cor­ri­dor.

Hor­ton said the city could even po­ten­tially cre­ate a re­bate pro­gram for peo­ple who choose to buy their own slow­fill, home CNG ma­chine. Be­cause the cus­tomer would still be buy­ing CNG from the city, the city would still reap some profit.

City re­jects pedes­trian bridge

In other city news, the coun­cil reached a con­sen­sus not to spend money to build a pedes­trian bridge di­rectly across Ga. High­way 81 that would cross In­ter­state 20.

While the city al­ready has a $500,000 grant for the bridge and could re­ceive other fund­ing, it could still end up pay­ing at least $200,000 if it didn’t find any ad­di­tional fund­ing for the $1 mil­lion bridge.

In ad­di­tion, the city would have to pay $75,000 for an en­gi­neer­ing study, which coun­cil mem­bers didn’t seem keen on.

Coun­cil­men Chris Smith, Mike What­ley and Dal­ton have all said they’ve re­ceived calls from con­stituents ques­tion­ing whether the money wouldn’t be spent some­where else. Mayor John­ston agreed that he be­lieves $200,000 would be bet­ter spent some­where else at this time.

The idea of the bridge was to make a safer pedes­trian cross­ing for walk­ers and bi­cy­clists, as the cur­rent rail­ing isn’t par­tic­u­larly high.

If the city of Ox­ford or Ox­ford Col­lege were will­ing to con­trib­ute money to the project to cover costs, the city coun­cil would likely con­sider the project.

Coun­cil­woman Ocie Franklin did say the city should work closely with the school, be­cause it’s an im­por­tant part of the com­mu­nity. One ar­gu­ment for the bridge is that many Ox­ford Col­lege stu­dents don’t have cars and would pre­fer to be able to walk to shop­ping and restau­rants in Cov­ing­ton. How­ever, the col­lege does have a shut­tle.

Coun­cil­man Smith won­dered if the state would be will­ing to maybe put fenc­ing up on the bridge rail­ing to make it even safer.

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