The Coastal Regional Commission saw a change in leadership when incoming Chairman Walter Gibson pounded the gavel at the start of the group’s August meeting on Wednesday.
Gibson, a Bulloch County commissioner, and CRC Executive Director Allen Burns honored outgoing Chairman Dan Coty with plaques to commemorate his two years of leadership before moving on to status reports on the commission’s various projects.
The CRC is a multicounty planning and development agency that serves 10 counties and 35 cities, with a total land area of more than 5,110 square miles, according to its website. Though the body does help with planning resources and project management, it does not have any legislative or regulatory authority.
Burns updated the council on the status of two Development of Regional Impact findings, one in Riceboro and another in Richmond Hill.
In Riceboro, the sewer system capacity will be expanded from 100,000 gallons per day to its maximum of 350,000 gallons per day. The project would extend sewer service to Peter Kind Road and H. Williams Road communities in the city’s southeast end and Briar Bay Road and Shell Road communities in the southwest end. It also will expand the facility from about 15 acres to 90 acres.
The council recommends that the project incorporate green building strategies to minimize water demands, as well as using reclaimed, treated water for irrigation instead of sending it out in a stream and into the water supply, Burns said.
“If you use it for irrigation, especially when we’re having a drought, that’s a good use of the water,” he said.
In other news, the Coastal Regional Coaches program will begin to see some changes, Burns said.
“We have had to make a decision this year to cut the vanpool program,” Burns said. “We have been running with that for two years, and that — I hate to say — has not been our most successful effort, and we’ve cut ties with the company that we have contracted with on that.”
The vanpool program offered consolidated driving options for work-bound employees trying to reduce their transit costs to work. Between five and 15 people could ride together to nearby locations in a provided bus, with a designated participant as the driver.
Many citizens showed interest in the initiative when it was first launched, but too few actually participated, Burns said.
“We’re just basically going to stop, reassess, revaluate what we were trying to do and start over,” he said.
He assured the members that there will be no lag of service due to the cut, and the Coastal Regional Coaches bussing program will continue. In the 2011 fiscal year, which ended July 31, the coaches offered about 200,000 trips.
The coaches program will see future increases in technology, according to Barbara Hurst, director of transit for the commission.
The program shuttles riders both within and between Liberty, Bryan, Long, Bulloch, Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, McIntosh and Screven counties and is funded by Federal Transit Administration funds, participating counties and cities and rider fares.
Because of the federal funding shakiness, Burns said the council also needs to be conservative with its money and plan to budget cuts, he said.
“It’s critical to us because roughly 75 percent of our funding is through the federal government,” he said.
Funding issues aside, the transit department hopes to add surveillance cameras and card readers to the coaches to better track ridership and eliminate cash payments, Hurst said.
The group is still looking into options for a pilot program to test the usage of propane or compressed natural gas as fuel sources for its coaches, Coty said. While compressed natural gas is not off the table, propane is currently the front-runner because it is more readily available.
“We’re talking about switching about 10 vehicles over to propane,” Burns said. “Because, as you know, fuel is the biggest cost in running the bus system.”
Based on estimates from a similar program, Mountain Mobility in Buncombe County, N.C., the group could save as much as 40 percent in fuel costs if it switches to propane, Coty said. If the pilot program takes off, the group also could save another 60 percent in maintenance costs.
The group is still working on arrangements for the deal and will need the state’s approval to retrofit the vehicles, but it hopes to know more this fall, Burns said.
In other housekeeping tasks, the council also made other personnel changes and reappointments in accordance with state law and the council’s bylaws.
The commission also approved appointments of nonpublic and ex-officio members, with Allen Brown and Robert Stokes serving as Liberty County representatives and William Miller as Long County’s representative.
Jim Thomas, the mayor of Hinesville and vice chairman of the CRC council, was appointed to the Budget and Finance Committee alongside Long County Chairman Bobby Walker.
Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver and Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler were appointed to serve on the Ethics Committee.