By Holly Hollman
For The News Courier
The City of Athens has won a 2014 Municipal Quality of Life Award for a program that saves money, improves the environment and decreases dependency on foreign fuel.
The Alabama League of Municipalities chose Athens and its compressed natural gas program among the entries for cities with a population over 12,001. Athens is the only city between Nashville and Birmingham that offers a public CNG station on the Interstate 65 Corridor.
The League will create a video highlighting the city, the Athens Gas Department and the public CNG station. The city will receive recognition on May 3 at the League of Municipalities Convention in Mobile.
“We are excited to be recognized by the League of Municipalities for the Quality of Life Award with our efforts of going green and CNG,” Mayor Ronnie Marks said. “The League of Municipalities represents over 300 cities and towns throughout the State of Alabama and to receive such an award is another example of the great work that is being done in our community.”
The League created the Municipal Quality of Life Awards program in 2007 to recognize outstanding projects in local government and to share success stories with other municipalities. A panel comprised of three independent judges who are not employed by or affiliated with the League chose the winning cities.
The criteria included recognizing successful, innovative projects that improve the quality of life for citizens, sharing those projects with other municipalities and demonstrating the value of cities and towns.
The city’s CNG program was initiated when Gas Department Manager Steve Carter approached city leaders about converting the city’s larger fleet vehicles to CNG to address increased fuel costs. Carter explained that CNG sells for less than $2 a gallon and is a cleaner fuel, making it better for the environment and improving vehicle maintenance.
In addition, CNG decreases the city’s dependence on foreign fuel sources. President Obama set a goal in 2012 to reduce foreign fuel imports by one half by 2020. According to www.whitehouse.gov, natural gas usage as a transportation fuel has contributed toward that reduction as its use has increased to an all-time high of 25 percent.
The city is operating or is in the process of putting into operation three CNG garbage trucks, three Dodge pickup trucks that run on CNG and gasoline, a CNG Honda Civic and five Chevrolet Tahoes that run on CNG or gasoline.
Mayor Marks, Athens Utilities General Manager Gary Scroggins and the Athens City Council opted to support Carter’s plan and construct a public CNG station for $614,360. The city’s public CNG station is at 1755 Trigreen Drive at the entrance to the Sportsplex on U.S. 31 near I-65 exit 354. Its opening in 2013 has promoted going green and reducing foreign fuel dependency by providing a fueling station for private vehicle owners and commercial and government fleets. The station services vehicles from across the nation, such as tractor trailers hauling goods across the country.
Mark Bentley, executive director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition, stated in a letter of support for the city’s award entry that, “Athens has demonstrated how cities can promote the use of alternative fuels and reap benefits within their own communities and beyond.”