County studies its use of fuel

Although Columbia County government now has its own fuel tank, fleet officials are doling the gas out sparingly until a usage study concludes this month.

Installed in February, primary users of the 20,000-gallon tank are the Columbia County Sheriff's Office and the county's Roads and Bridges office. The Recreation Department and Construction and Maintenance Services sometimes fuel up at the tank as well.

"With the limited number of departments that now have access to it, we're measuring to see how quickly they turn that fuel over," said Clayton Galloway, the manager of Columbia County Fleet Management. "The reason we need that data is because this thing is not only an alternate fueling site for us, but it is also our contingency fueling site."

After Hurricane Katrina, the Circle K gas station at the corner of Columbia Road and Appling-Harlem Highway, a primary refueling site for police cruisers, ran out of gas, Mr. Galloway said.

"I'll never forget that call from the sheriff asking me what can we do, and I didn't have an answer for him," Mr. Galloway said.

Last year, Mr. Galloway received approval and $130,000 from the Columbia County Commission to purchase the reserve tank.

A usage study will help fleet officials gauge how much gas is needed to keep emergency vehicles and generators operating for 10 days.

Once that's established, Mr. Galloway said, no one will be allowed to withdraw fuel below that amount.

The Appling-based reserve tank proved useful in March when a series of tornadoes blew down trees and damaged homes.

"Those departments located in Appling didn't have to go to Martinez to find fuel," Mr. Galloway said. "We were able to service them here so they could get back out to helping people as quickly as possible."

Once an emergency level is set, more departments using county-owned vehicles might be able to use the tank.

With gas prices hovering near $4 a gallon, the Fleet Management tank can refuel vehicles cheaper than privately owned gas stations.

"The taxpayer expects it to pay for itself," Mr. Galloway said. "Right now, we're running 6 to 8 cents per gallon cheaper. That's because we buy unbranded fuel and get tax incentives."

At that rate, Mr. Galloway said, the fuel tank should pay for itself in about six to seven years.

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.