Eagle County is going green

Officials: More hybrids a goal

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— What is it, exactly, that makes Eagle County such a great place to live?

Of course there are obvious answers - breathtaking scenery, world-class skiing, active and involved citizens, small town character. But for the employees of Eagle County, actually defining the nuts and bolts that combine to make up the area's quality of life has become a more formal effort. Eagle County's study has culminated with a report called Sustainable Communities 2010.

According to Yuri Kostick, sustainability coordinator for Eagle County, the effort is an attempt to look at the valley holistically. "We need to understand, as a community, that what happens upstream affects what happens downstream," he says.

The Sustainable Communities 2010 seeks to provide local decision-makers quantifiable "quality of life" data and information. The report also outlines suggested tools to protect quality of life and assist with public policy decisions throughout the county.

"The purpose of Sustainable Communities 2010 is to first quantify residents' needs and levels of service, then recommend solutions to ensure impacts associated with growth are mitigated and adequate services are provided to meet the demands of the population," says acting Eagle County Manager Keith Montag. "Sustainable Communities 2010 comprehensively considers the economic, social and environmental challenges that arise from growth."

Montag credited feedback from a county survey completed last summer with launching the Sustainable Communities 2010 exercise. Based on those results, county residents identified the following "threats" to their quality of life:

- Growth and land use

- Transportation and traffic congestion

- Affordable housing and cost of living

- Environmental protection

- Services such as health care, child care and senior care

With the concerns thus identified, the county set out to define current service levels and the service level goal. The report outlines the gap existing between the two and sets out methods and associated costs to close it. It then lays out specific strategies to protect identified quality of life factors.

And then came time for the county to walk its talk and meet the standards it sets for others.

"We adopted ECO-Build regulations, but you know, the county builds stuff, too," says Kostick. "So when we build stuff, it better be in an environmentally sensitive manner."

Because the focus on sustainability is a new initiative and it can mean extra expense in a tight economy, it can be unpopular, Kostick added. For example, the county's decision to landscape the administration building in Eagle with plants that use less water was harshly criticized by some members of the community. "I think that project was completely justified, especially because it's an opportunity to educate people," Kostick says.

Hybrid fleet

Skeptics' eyebrows definitely raised about two years ago when Eagle County added 20 hybrid sedans to its motor vehicle fleet.

Then, the price of gas started to increase, and those eyebrows started coming down - particularly when the price of gas hit more than $4 a gallon last summer. In normal driving conditions, the fuel-efficient cars run on the electric motor, assisted by the gasoline engine as needed. For example, when slowing, the gas engine shuts off and the electric motor coverts momentum into electricity, storing it in the battery. When the Prius comes to a stop, its gasoline engine shuts off, conserving fuel and reducing emissions.

Now, 21 months into the Toyota Prius program, the county estimates those hybrid vehicles use 175 percent less gas than the sports utility vehicles that they replaced. The old cars averaged 18 miles per gallon of gas. The Prius averages 49.58 miles to the gallon.

County Fleet Manager Gusty Kanakis estimates that when the price of gas is at $3.59 a gallon, the savings in fuel alone amounts to $46,670 annually. And, he notes, there's benefits beyond the cost of gas.

"Whenever you're using less fuel, you're being environmentally friendly," says Kanakis.

The purchase of the distinctive, light green-colored hybrid cars probably is the most visible of aspect of the county's "ECO-Green" initiative, intended to promote environmental stewardship.

The 20 Prius cars, which make up about half of the county's light vehicle fleet, were purchased at $23,897 each. A few months later, the county obtained rebates of $3,013 per vehicle through the Colorado Department of Revenue's alternative fuel income tax credit program. The hybrids replaced 15 SUV vehicles and five Dodge Intrepids, some of which were scheduled for regular replacement. (The county's police is to replace cars once they accumulate 112,000 miles.)

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