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Council considers CNG fueling station
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The city will examine the possibility of building a compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station and converting some of its fleet to run on CNG in an effort to save money and possibly even produce future revenue.

If the city paid pump prices for CNG, the equivalent of $2.20 a gallon, and converted its sedans and pickup trucks to run on CNG, the city could save $35,500 yearly in fuel costs. However, first it would have to pay around $2 million to build a CNG fueling station large enough to accommodate both the city's fleet and public use.

The Covington City Council reached a consensus Monday night to schedule a work session to discuss a CNG station and vehicles in more depth.

Jeff Greene handles business development for Wise Gas, a company that promotes and facilitates the use of CNG. He made a powerpoint presentation to the council Monday.

Greene said CNG is a clean-burning, domestically-produced, affordable fuel that he expects to increase in use soon. He said 98 percent of natural gas consumed in the U.S. is produced in the U.S., and wholesale prices for CNG are $1.20 a gallon, compared to gas pump prices which are averaging $3.70 a gallon and rising.

However, the cost of CNG vehicles is high and the price generally only makes sense for people who drive a lot, which makes it a good fit for corporate or government fleets.

Newton County, which has more vehicles, could save $102,125 a year, but the city is the only government entity that likely has the resources to build its own CNG fueling station.

Greene said CNG stations are slowly increasing in number but said if Covington builds a station it could eventually attract 18-wheelers that run on CNG. If stations are built in Atlanta and Savannah, Covington could make a natural stop on I-20. However, that is a hypothetical discussion at this point.

In order to build a station that could handle both Covington's fleet and public vehicles, the city would likely have to spend around $1.9 million, including $900,000 in site improvements and $1 million in equipment.

The city was considering a potential site near the Covington Municipal Airport, but grant writer Randy Conner said Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Administration said the station could not be built there. The city is looking at other locations.

In related news, the council decided to sell its gas peak shaving plant for $511,400 to the high-bidder Lancaster Propane Gas. The council agreed to set aside the money for a future CNG fueling station.

The gas peak shaving plant was built in the 1970s and used a method whereby propane could be altered so that it would burn similar to natural gas and could, therefore, be used in natural gas' place. The city no longer has a shortage of natural gas and doesn't need the facility. The plant is located behind the Covington Housing Authority, which is off Alcovy Road.

In other news, the council voted to approve a process by which companies will be able to apply for temporary permits to sell their food or goods downtown during special events.

The council did not agree to contribute an additional $100,000 to complete the long-planned Covington Branch Library to Eastside High School trail project. The extra $100,000 would have covered the cost of placing 5 inches of concrete along the 10-foot-wide trail to allow public safety vehicles to drive down the trail in an emergency, if needed.

Councilman Chris Smith said the $225,000 the city has promised to the project is enough. Project coordinator Cheryl Delk will discuss the possibility of additional funding with the Newton County Board of Commissioners to see if they are willing to cover the cost or partner to cover the cost.

The three-mile wide trail has been in planning for the past several years. According to a project outline, the trail is expected to connect about 2,000 residences to the library, downtown, Eastside and the Alcovy River Greenway.

Councilman Smith also reiterated his desire to see Covington pursue a saggy pants ordinance, which is being considered by Porterdale and has been passed by other metro Atlanta communities.