Hamilton resident Russ Lawrence is a member of a new non-profit group in the valley called the Bitterroot Climate Action Group (BCAG). The group’s motto is “people of the Bitterroot Valley taking action to mitigate the impacts of climate change and mitigate or change human activities that contribute to climate change, acting with respect and civility to all.”
The group functions through self-organizing groups of members working together around issues of importance. Members of the group are pursuing ideas and working on projects to address such problems as food waste, energy waste, land, air and water pollution on a local level through recycling and use of alternative energies and other means.
It was through his association with BCAG that Lawrence first heard of a grant that was available through the state that could be used to help establish electric vehicle charging stations. The grant money comes through the Volkswagon settlement agreement with the government over their lawsuit concerning the car’s diesel fuel emissions. States can use the money to install electric charging stations for use by new electric powered vehicles. According to Lawrence, many states have used the money, but Montana is a little slow in grabbing its piece of the pie. He decided to look into it.
“One reason I jumped on it,” he said, “is that a friend of mine who has an electric car was making a trip from Washington to New York down to Florida and back across the south and up to Montana. She was visiting some friends of mine in Ennis and wanted to visit some friends in Sun Valley and stop and visit me on the way. But due to the lack of any charging station in the Bitterroot Valley it was the one section of her 6,000-mile trip that she couldn’t do. So, the one time she was stymied by the lack of any charging stations was in the Bitterroot and I thought, yeah, we need to fix that.”
Lawrence said that he was dedicated to reducing his own carbon footprint.
“But this is a way to do it on a bigger scale,” he said. The grant said that it gave credit to an application if it was going to be installed on government property. So Lawrence approached officials at the City of Hamilton.
“City Hall in Hamilton is vastly underpopulated now due to the new justice center,” said Lawrence, “and I thought they might have a couple of parking spaces that could be used for the charging station.”
One of the stipulations in the grant, he said, was that the stations had to be dedicated for a period of five years for electric vehicle charging and no other parking. He ran it by the mayor and few council members and got a very positive response. So he took the idea to City Planner Matthew Rohrbach.
“Mr. Rohrbach offered to write the grant and I am helping him,” said Lawrence. “The City got behind it immediately with no hesitation and said we can do this.”
Lawrence said that officials at Montana DEQ were really excited about getting a charging station in Ravalli County since it was an underserved area. He said another thing they look at in the grant is placing them in air quality non-attainment areas and Ravalli County is a non-attainment area.
Hamilton Mayor Dominic Farrenkopf said that installation of some electric car charging stations could give a little boost to downtown businesses. The cost to the City to provide the service is estimated to be about $2 per vehicle for two hours of charging.
Lawrence agreed, saying that while the car is charging the drivers will have an opportunity to spend some time and money in the downtown.
“They will go shopping or go to a brewery or go out to eat somewhere,” said Lawrence. “The City could make it free and it would be an economic boost to the downtown.”
The cost of installing the station is estimated at $8,000. The state grant, if awarded, would cover 90% of the cost. The Bitterroot Climate Action Group has offered to come up with the $800 in matching funds for the grant.
“It would be a great additional amenity for the City,” said Farrenkopf.
“And a service to the planet,” said Lawrence.