The Audrain County Road and Bridge Department obtained a grant to replace three vehicles this week, rather than over the course of three years, after a radio news report led to a four-day scramble to submit a grant application.
“First and foremost, we got lucky. One of our Road and Bridge employees, I think, was driving to work listening to The Eagle out of Columbia, and they were talking about the Volkswagen Grant from their settlement,” Audrain County Presiding Commissioner Steve Hobbs said.
The Environmental Protection Agency reportedly found in 2015 that Volkswagen had programmed vehicles with its turbocharged direct injection diesel engines to only activate the vehicle’s emissions controls during laboratory emissions testing. This circumvention of the Clean Air Act made it seem like those vehicles were putting out acceptable levels of Nitrogen Oxide, or NOx. Multiple lawsuits were filed not only in the United States but internationally. A settlement was eventually reached.
Missouri is one of the states that developed a grant program through the Department of Natural Resources for government agencies and other groups to provide funds to replace older vehicles with outdated emissions systems.
“To qualify (for the grant), the vehicles had to be a certain age — I believe it’s 1999 to 2005 — and have certain emissions on them,” Hobbs said. “Then the criteria also was number of miles driven per year and number of miles on the truck.”
The county already had three vehicles schedule for replacement, all which had roughly 500,000 miles on the odometer that the county had bought new in the early 2000s. “We were going to do one a year over the next three years, basically,” Hobbs said.
The grant the county received was for three dump trucks, so the county is replacing dump trucks and a similar road tractor. The county was the Top 3 grant recipients for this grant cycle.
“We did this in a hurry. We didn’t know if it would come to fruition,” Hobbs said. “Then early in February, we were notified we were granted not one but three trucks.”
The grant through the state is a reimbursement program. The county will have to make the purchase of the three vehicles outright, then once documentation is submitted to the state, will receive a 50 percent reimbursement for the cost of the vehicles — roughly $194,000.
“What this means is, we’re going to be able to upgrade our fleet immediately. We’ll have less down time, less repair costs, but we have to follow all of the criteria of the grant,” Hobbs said.
The three trucks being replaced will have to be removed from service, so they will never be titled again, along with having a 3-inch hole drilled into the engine block and the frame cut in half, he said. This all has to be included in the documentation submitted to the state.
The county has an equipment replacement fund in its budget, and the grant will help the county rebuild that fund after the county receives its three new trucks at the end of the week.
“We’re going to spend $400,000 to buy three trucks right now that we probably would have done over a three-year period. We’re going to have to come up with that money up front and then we’ll get reimbursed half of it,” Hobbs said.
Replacing the three trucks now through the grant program could free up funds for other equipment purchases or road projects. “These three trucks we’re getting should last us 15 years,” Hobbs said.
The three trucks were replaced through Scheppers International Truck Center of Jefferson City, which holds the state contract for government equipment replacements. County governments can go through the state contract holder as well for equipment replacement. Warranties for the trucks will be through Meyer Truck Services LLC of Mexico, Hobbs said.
This is the first round of the grant’s rotation, which is expected to last through 2027. The state received $41 million of the $2.9 billion settlement. The Volkswagen Trust was established in the state October 2017. The first cycle of applications were accepted beginning in the summer of 2018.
The Mexico School District No. 59 also applied in the grant program to replace two of its school buses. It was selected as an alternate applicant. If enough selected schools withdraw their application, the district would receive grant funds in this round. The district still could receive funding in subsequent rounds.
The first round of grants applied to school buses, transit and shuttle buses and government trucks. The next rounds will open to applications from entities with nongovernment trucks, locomotive and marine, as well as airport and cargo equipment.