COLUMBIA — The city is making plans to buy 16 vehicles with compressed-natural-gas engines and to build a natural gas fueling station in northeast Columbia.
Eric Evans, fleet operations manager for the city, said the fleet optimization committee will meet this week to review specifications for the vehicles before the Finance Department issues purchasing orders.
The purchase will include vehicles for the Parks and Recreation, Public Works, and Water and Light departments. The total estimated cost for the 16 vehicles would be $3.5 million, Evans said.
According to an email from Public Works Department spokesman Steven Sapp sent Monday afternoon, among the vehicles intended for purchase are two 40-foot buses for Columbia Transit and Paratransit; two replacement refuse trucks for the Parks and Recreation Department; two replacement dump trucks and a pickup truck for street and sidewalk services; six replacement vehicles for refuse collection and three pickups for the Water and Light Department.
The city also is working on building a compressed natural-gas station on Lake Ridgeway Drive near Bass Pro Shops, according a report to the Columbia City Council from Public Works Director John Glascock. The location was chosen because it has proper zoning and is easily accessible from Interstate 70 and U.S. 63
The station will cost between $1.5 million and $2.8 million, depending on final details of the city's contract with the fuel company Clean Energy.
City Manager Mike Matthes told the City Council last Monday that the station would be able to serve compressed natural gas vehicles traveling between St. Louis and Kansas City.
"In those markets, the attraction here is they can't get all the way across on a tank, but they can get here," Matthes said.
Sapp said plans call for the station to have two pumps for city vehicles and one for the public.
Glascock told the council that two companies already havecommitted to buying compressed natural-gas vehicles and intend to use the fueling station.
Because the vehicles are made to order, Sapp said it could take more than a year for the city to add them to its fleet.
"We don't think we've got the cart before the horse," Sapp said. "We fully expect the CNG station to be operational before the vehicles arrive."
In addition to the 16 vehicles, the city has applied for a federal TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation that would cover the city's share of costs for building the station, bus shelters with solar-powered electronic signs, 13 compressed-natural-gas buses and four electric vehicle charging stations.
The council's plans to convert part of its fleet to natural gas have raised some concerns with members of the public, including Monta Welch of Peoples Visioning and the Columbia Climate Change Coalition.
Welch said the city should take a closer look at other alternative energy sources and carefully examine the potential impacts on the environment and public health.
"Using the public's money should require much more in-depth comparison when we're looking to make these kinds of investments for the public," Welch said.
One of the ways natural gas is extracted is through hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking," which is done by injecting water, sand and chemicals into the ground.
The EPA has said that there are potential risks that come with fracking, including air pollution and contamination of ground and surface water.
Citing a report from the Groundwater Protection Council, the Public Works memo to the council said that "current data suggests that problems with fracking only occur in a very small percentage of wells; one recorded incident for every 2,833 wells drilled representing a failure rate of 0.03%."
The EPA is researching the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water and intends to release a final report next year.
The report to the council also said that compressed natural gas is cheaper than diesel fuel and that vehicles using compressed natural-gas produce fewer carbon emissions than vehicles using biodiesel.
The report notes that the city has been using biodiesel since 2002. About 300 city vehicles use a total of more than 550,000 gallons of biodiesel each year. Compressed natural gas is cheaper, however, and the city would be able to recoup the additional cost of compressed natural gas vehicles within four or five years, the report said.
Mayor Bob McDavid supports the station. "It's saving us money, it's saving us carbon, and we're doing it with a domestically produced fuel."
Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp said that while there are some environmental concerns with natural gas, especially with fracking, there are similar concerns with diesel.
"We get some big benefits right away, and the negatives are the same," Trapp said.
Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas moved at last Monday's meeting to delay going forward with the purchase of the vehicles until the next council session, but the motion did not pass.
In a telephone interview Monday afternoon, Thomas said he wanted additional time to research natural gas, including its environmental impact and possible alternatives.
"I do intend to continue to look at CNG vs. biodiesel vs. solar electric to develop my own opinion," Thomas said.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.