The Pensacola area has an abundance of natural beauty. White sands, screaming sunsets and the emerald waters’ seductive fade into the deep have defined the city since long before it was a city. It’s a nice place to drive around with the top down.
But the area is also home to some environmental nightmares. Our air and water quality are not the envy of Florida. The Mayor’s State of the City address on Monday referred to “regular health warnings on our bays and bayous,” as well as the “national media attention” the area’s environmental woe’s have attracted.
As outlined during his inaugural address to the city, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward has identified environmental issues as a target of his administration. Some of his ideas include transitioning the city’s fleet of vehicles to natural gas, raising stormwater rates to deal with the effects of runoff and making use of a former Superfund site.
Hayward is hoping to take advantage of the city-owned natural gas company, Energy Services of Pensacola. He has plans to convert city vehicles to natural gas, and possibly sell the fuel commercially via ESP.
According to Don Suarez, energy services director for the City of Pensacola, the fleet transition would take about five years. Only vehicles that “make sense” would be converted to, or phased out in favor of, natural gas.
“Garbage trucks are very good candidates,” Suarez said, going on to list utility trucks, police cruisers and street sweepers as prime for natural gas.
Another idea in the pipe is to construct a natural gas fueling station on the city lot. Suarez said the city is also considering the option of contracting with a private company who has expressed interest in their own natural gas fueling station.
In the first scenario, city vehicles are using gas from ESP. In the second, ESP is selling gas to a private company, who is then selling it to the city and anyone else who’s looking to buy. Either way ESP is selling natural gas, and less gas and diesel vehicles are on the road.
“And, of course, we’re interested in that,” Suarez said.
On the stormwater front, the Mayor has proposed raising rates to better deal with the area’s runoff issues. Hayward argues that the current rates were set a decade ago and are not reflective of today’s burden.
Al Garza, director of public works for Pensacola, said the stormwater program has been running off of savings for more than five years.
“You can’t live that way,” Garza said.
The City Council considered raising the rate last year from the current $52.80 per average household to $66.20, but decided against the hike. This time, Garza said even that amount is insufficient; he points higher, to $68.43.
The Mayor’s team seems confident that residents will be willing to shell out the extra money in fees in exchange for a cleaner Pensacola.
“Nobody wants to live in a place with dirty air and dirty water and dirty neighborhoods,” said Travis Peterson, Hayward’s public information officer, “and the Mayor believes that this budget will go a long way to addressing those problems.”
Hayward is also planning on utilizing the Escambia Treating Site. The 80-plus acre, former EPA Superfund site is currently undergoing assessment. They Mayor hopes to develop the site into a commerce park with rail and interstate access.