Making Mono green

BRIDGEPORT—In an effort toward making Mono County more environmentally respectable, the Mono County Board of Supervisors this past week moved forward in its bid toward purchasing more efficient vehicles for its fleet, while also examining building code modifications to help “green” construction projects.

Although not setting policies in stone, the supervisors, led by Mammoth’s Larry Johnston, moved toward recommending purchasing two-wheeled drive, smaller vehicles for routine tasks, particularly in the summer months, as well as pushing for more car-pooling among county employees.

In its second move, the supervisors sent back to the county staff a directive toward making Mono County a more active player in “green” construction projects by modifying permit fee structures.

The supervisors, meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12, did not act on changing its building codes, but were open for suggestions, after the supervisors received a presentation by Building Official Tom Perry regarding how revamped building permit fees for green projects might make it a bit easier on developers and builders.

While it is unknown how the county might help developers and builders in their proposals for installing such things as solar panels, or in their efforts toward tapping geo-thermal power, the issues of the motor fleet were clear.

As vehicles age and become obsolete, the county replaces them on a routine basis. This year, the county is aiming toward replacing nine vehicles, six of them 4X4 trucks.

According to interim public works director Jeff Walters, who leads the motor pool, his staff “actively researches new options that would benefit Mono County.” The research, he wrote in a staff report, includes monitoring Consumer Reports, EPA fuel economy guides, trade publications, dealership inquiries and the county’s own maintenance records.

Johnston, for one, said he wants a change in the routine.

“Is the status quo OK?” he said, following a report from Walters.

“I don’t think so. I think we need to push departments and the motor pool to head in a direction that’s significantly more efficient, and that should be a policy, I think.”

Johnston’s remarks, which were peppered with bits of humor (“I’d like to see Sheriff Obenberger in a Prius”), still carried significant chunks of data.

“What I have a concern with is how we stay on top of this without affecting service levels significantly,” he said.

For example, he said the Sheriff’s Department’s use of Ford Interceptors instead of Ford Expeditions would increase efficiency and save gas, and he noted the California Highway Patrol is moving toward Interceptors, “saving quite a bit of money in gas.”

“So from my perspective, we’re sort of missing an overall goal for the county’s fleet. Right now it’s 200,000 gallons of gas a year, translating into $800,000 a year, just based on miles per gallon.

“I’ve been suggesting for some time that we have some sort of systematic reduction in that fuel usage.

“If we could cut out 10 percent, we can do it in a couple of different ways. We can do it by not using vehicles as much, and that would lead us into a discussion of car-pooling. It’s pretty common to see individual county vehicles on the road with single occupants.

“The trend is toward more cost effective vehicles.  I count some 20 Expeditions or more in the Sheriff’s Department alone, and for me, if we can’t use a different vehicle, maybe we can use a few Expeditions for certain applications, but 90 percent of the time we can use Interceptors. That’s a lot of fuel usage reduction, just by changing that over time.”

Johnston said he is looking well into the future, and that he was aware that this is not an overnight type of fix.

“We need to do something now that Mono County has thought out, more than for just next year, but in 20 years. We need to think what it’s going to be like with gas prices at $10 a gallon. We can be close to maintaining our service levels if we have a systematic program.

“I don’t know if you’re ready for that or not,” he said to Walters, “but I’d appreciate it if you’d consider it.”

As for changing the fee structures for green construction projects, the supervisors listened patiently to Perry’s presentation, and then quickly sent back to the staff a directive toward investigating the options.

The effort actually is a continuation of a process that began in December 2011. That effort stalled, but on Tuesday found new life.

“Given the recent trend in such projects such as solar generated electricity and geothermal space and water heating systems, the topic is the basis for this presentation,” wrote Perry in a staff report.

There was a sense of some urgency in this area, according to County Administrator Jim Leddy, as there is a perceived ground swell of interest in new construction, particularly among people interested in living “off the grid” in such places as Virginia Lakes, near the top of Conway Summit.

Leddy said he would bring back to the board some options quickly, possibly as early as January, to get a jump on the 2014 building season.