Fort Payne schools receive $800k from Volkswagen settlement funds

Electric school buses produce zero emissions, ensuring an even healthier environment for our children and our planet.

Fort Payne will become one of the first public systems in Alabama to have 100-percent electric school buses after receiving money from a settlement against Volkswagen Group of America.

According to a press release from Gov. Kay Ivey’s office, Fort Payne City Schools will receive $805,750 to replace four school buses as part of the $25 million the state is receiving from the $2.9 billion nationwide settlement against Volkswagen for violating the U.S. Clean Air Act.

Replacement vehicles and equipment funded statewide by Alabama’s portion of the settlement money will be powered by electricity, propane or cleaner burning diesel fuel -- offsetting the environmental damage caused by Volkswagen installing software in about 590,000 vehicles which misled the amount of emissions the vehicles were emitting.

Fort Payne Superintendent of Education Jimmy Cunningham said he gave Laran Crowe-Adkins the task of completing the grant application “and she did a meticulous job. The goal of the grant is to provide efficient means of transportation. We have tried in the past to add an electric bus to our fleet through a TVA grant but were not successful. We decided this grant opportunity could be a path to implement an alternative means of transportation to our existing fleet.”

Transportation Director Crowe-Adkins said city school officials will meet January 14 with leading bus manufacturer Blue Bird to develop a game-plan.

“It’s exciting,” Crowe said. “We will be implementing a new source of transportation.”

“We wanted to be the first public school in Alabama to bring them to our fleet,” Cunningham said. “We see as it as such a boon to defray the negative impact of traditional fuel emissions on the environment. We were awarded two battery-powered buses to each carry 78 passengers and two diesel fuel buses that will each carry 84 passengers. The grant also required a 20 percent match, which means, in dollars, a $201,438 commitment from the school system. We will take that deal any day of the week. On behalf of the Fort Payne City School Board, I would like to thank Governor Kay Ivey and Kenneth W. Boswell, Director of the the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA), for this progressive opportunity.”

Since the bus specifications for school buses in Alabama are written for diesel buses, a waiver was obtained through Chad Carpenter, program administrator for pupil transportation at the Alabama State Department of Education, to allow Fort Payne to purchase the two electric school buses. Carpenter was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

The city will be able to collect data for conducting an analysis of whether the electric vehicles are a cost-effective alternative.

Alabama Gov. Key Ivey announced the first allocation of funds. The Boaz Board of Education in Marshall County is getting $263,524 to replace four school buses there as well.

“I commend ADECA for developing a fair and equitable plan for distributing these funds, and I am pleased to announce the first grants from this program,” Gov. Ivey said. “This settlement will result in safer and more efficient vehicles traveling Alabama’s roads and equipment operating in plants.”

ADECA administers a wide range of programs that support law enforcement, victim programs, economic development, water resource management, energy conservation and recreation. The organization’s energy division initiated the state’s plan and conducted multiple public hearings across the state to explain and obtain comments on the plan.

“I appreciate the confidence that Gov. Ivey has shown in ADECA through appointing our agency to handle the settlement funds,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “Our Energy Division worked long and hard to come up with a plan that meets the specifications of the settlement and benefits the state, and we are now pleased to award the first grants.”

The aim of the Volkswagen settlement is to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions formed whenever combustion occurs in car engines. Concentrated amounts result in smog and acid rain while aggravating respiratory diseases like asthma. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1970 and updated in 1990 to curb four major threats to the environment and to the health of millions of Americans: acid rain, urban air pollution, toxic air emissions, and stratospheric ozone depletion.

According to its company website, school bus manufacturer Blue Bird already has electric buses operating in California, North Dakota and Washington.

“The buses produce zero emissions, improve air quality and require less maintenance, saving districts time and money. The buses are capable of up to 120 miles of range and can be recharged in approximately eight hours using a standard SAE J1772 Level 2 charger, making overnight charging convenient,” the website reads.

Others receiving grants also included the Alabama Forestry Commission ($128,800), Alabama Port Authority ($697,200), Boaz Board of Education ($263,524), Huntsville ($532,935 and $356,750), City of Mobile ($303,000 and $124,667), Mobile County Board of Education ($2.16 million), Oakland Metal Buildings Inc. in Florence ($111,365), and Sysco Central Alabama Inc. in Shelby County ($315,000).

Volkswagen is hoping to put the emissions scandal behind them. The automaker broke ground last November on a 564,000-square-foot expansion of its Chattanooga plant to produce electric-only vehicles beginning in 2022. It represents an $800 million investment and will create 1,000 new jobs. The company also announced it intends to build a plant for the assembly of battery packs at the Chattanooga site. Volkswagen currently builds the midsize Atlas SUV and the Passat sedan at the Chattanooga factory.

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