County Comment: County looks at fuel availability for vehicle use in emergency situations

County Comment
County looks at fuel availability for vehicle use in emergency situations
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

The July 18 meeting of the Washington County Boatrd of County Commissioners heard a report from the Fuel and Vehicle Task Group (F&VTG).
County Administrator Rod Shoop reminded the Board that for a period after Hurricane Katrina, delivery of gasoline and diesel fuel was at risk. Shoop and Director of Public Works Gary Rohrer formed the F&VTG in response to high fuel prices and those potential fuel shortages to review County policies and procedures.
The Task Group included members from County and City government agencies and met to discuss the County's dependence on oil, the availability of fuel and the County's ability to function and maintain necessary services during a fuel crisis.
Public Transportation Department Director Kevin Cerrone Chaired the group. He and members of the F&VTG brought the report to the Board.
Issues discussed included air quality, advances in technology, hybrid vehicles and alternative fuel sources. The presentation gave an overview of the Group's findings and recommendations as well as methods to incorporate newer technology into the County's policies for fuel and vehicle use.
Major items the group considered included a plan to network existing fuel sites. This was seen as possible for the entire system with software and equipment upgrades, and is partially achievable now at no cost using Highways locations.
The group recommended developing a plan to purchase fuel outside the network of County sites during emergencies, but recommended further study due to need for regulatory compliance.
Use of bio-diesel and ethanol to reduce consumption of diesel fuel and gas was considered. The Task Group said that future use could be phased in as the supply becomes more plentiful, cost-effective and stable, but the cost of vehicles being retrofitted to accommodate alternative fuels would have to be addressed.
Use of waste oil instead of regular fuels for standby generator systems was researched, citing the Water Quality Department's current use of waste oil for heat generation. This method was not recommended for generators due to critical County operations, due to the possibility of unreliable fuel sources and quality.
An increase of fuel storage capacity would carry with it a large capital investment, but is currently being pursued. Highways Department Fleet Manager Jack Reynard said that the County currently has 4 months of diesel fuel in reserve and 1.6 months of gasoline. Efforts are underway to bring the gas amounts to a 4-month level. Above-ground storage tanks will be installed at various county facilities, starting with the Southern Highways Section at Keedysville.
A review of vehicle use included a look at the feasibility of hybrid vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles by the County. Captain Mark Faith said that test vehicles are being purchased by the Sheriff's Office Judicial Division but maintenance costs and fuel savings would have to be determined after a significant period of those vehicles' use.
A review of vehicle replacement guidelines recommended further study on the cost impact of replacing equipment at 10 years rather than 5 or 7. Hybrids would require replacement in 5 to 7 years the study found.
Human Resources Risk Management Administrator Becky McGinnis reported that a review of vehicle use and take home policies and assignments, as well as imposition of mileage limits on those vehicles would require a full review of current policies, and should incorporate elements for efficient fuel use, alternative fueling stations, safe driving recommendations, and standards for driving privileges.
Ensuring optimum vehicle fuel efficiency through scheduled preventive maintenance can be implemented immediately at a minimal cost and mandated through the Vehicle Use policy, the group found. Organization Efficiency was reviewed.
Other suggestions the task group considered included alternative employee work schedules, such as a 10-hour day, 4-day work week. Highways and Parks departments already operate on this schedule during the summer months, and discussion has taken place on use by Permits and Inspections.
County Commuter bus transportation would be useful in national emergencies and in countywide disaster planning, the group found.
Cerrone requested approval of the Board to have staff look into the issues in further detail and the Commissioners reached consensus to move ahead with those plans.