School buses may be parked

State air restrictions leave districts with few options

By Dylan Darling, Tuesday, June 3, 2008, Redding.com

Cuts keep coming at the Cottonwood Union School District.

A shrinking budget has meant teachers and aides have been laid off. Now some of the district's buses may be given a pink slip because of stricter air pollution restrictions by the state.

"It's shameful that they would come to the schools at this time," said Jill Loftus, the district's director of transportation.

Along with companies that use big rigs -- such as concrete mixers, dump trucks and tractor-trailers -- to drive their business, school districts could have to replace or retrofit their diesel-burning buses over the next five years depending on how old they are.

During a pair of meetings and an hour-long discussion of school buses Monday at the Shasta County Board of Supervisors chambers, state air officials said the decision would result in less pollution and improved health. Without the restrictions, the state Air Resources Board predicts 11,000 premature deaths because of foul air.

The board is set to vote on the rule in October.

While he said he wants clean air, Tom Carroll, director of transportation for the Shasta Union High School District, said the restrictions are coming too fast and there aren't enough funds available for the changes to school bus fleets that could result.

Finding the funds could lead to tough decisions for school officials.

“Every retrofit on one of my buses is (the cost of) half a teacher,” Carroll said. The district has 22 buses in its fleet, many of which might have to be replaced or retrofitted with a soot-collecting filter. Cost of a retrofit is about $20,000.

Although the state has $191 million available to help districts replace or retrofit, the districts will need to cover some of the costs as well, said Lucina Negrete, manager of the Air Resources Board on-road controls branch.

“The bottom-line is the money can’t cover 100 percent of everything,” she said.

Along with school transportation officials, Monday’s meetings drew people whose businesses rely on diesel trucks from around the north state and beyond. Bill Hay, who owns Bed Rock Inc. with his son Richard in Point Arena, said the proposed restrictions could also lead to tough business decisions for his family. In all, the Hays have 21 diesel trucks — from cement mixers to cattle trucks — that need to be replaced or retrofitted.

He said he might have to scrap his trucks or try to sell them out of state, and the costs could be too much for his company to bear.

“I think it’s putting the small guy out of business,” he said.

Costs of making the change to the updated diesel rigs for private companies will likely be passed on to the consumer, said Stephan Lemieux, manager of the air board’s heavy duty diesel section.

“All of us are invested in greenhouse gas reduction,” he said.

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