Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File                                School buses line up for students at Harborview Elementary School in December 2019.

Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File School buses line up for students at Harborview Elementary School in December 2019.

Federal settlement nets schools a new bus

Volkswagen bus replacement program adds to local fleet.

A new school bus is coming to Juneau as the result of a multibillion-dollar international scandal.

The Juneau School District will be one of eight districts to benefit from $4.4 million to replace 33 diesel school buses with new clean-burning buses under the Volkswagen Settlement School Bus Replacement Program, said Alaska Energy Authority in a news release Tuesday. The Alaska Energy Authority is a public corporation of the state tasked with reducing the cost of energy in Alaska.

Alaska received nearly $8.13 million as a result of Volkswagen’s federal settlement, according to AEA, and 60% of that is being disbursed for school bus replacements.

Juneau School District does not own its buses. Instead, it contracts with First Student. AEA preliminary design and environmental manager Betsy McGregor said in a phone interview it was First Student that applied for the grant.

[Juneau’s electric vehicle total continues to surge]

“The Juneau School District appreciates First Student’s efforts in applying for the school bus replacement program,” said Juneau School District chief of staff Kristin Bartlett in an email. “It is a positive step toward improving air quality in our community and around our school buildings.”

Kevin Hansen, manager for First Student, said in a phone interview that while he does not know much about the grant application — that, he said, was handled by a corporate office in the Lower 48 — there is a 15-year-old bus scheduled to be replaced soon.

Hansen said the bus does not contain any Volkswagen parts, but a newer bus will definitely have less impactful emissions.

“I know that we do have a unit that is due to be replaced this year,” Hansen said, “and it will be replaced this summer.”

First Student applied for one bus in Juneau, one in Kodiak Island Borough and four in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, McGregor said.

Additional beneficiaries of the grants include Alaska Gateway School District, Anchorage School District, Kenai School District and Southeast Island School District, according to AEA.

Buses in applications were ranked based on the amount of ambient nitrogen oxides (NOx) and diesel particulate matter in the areas that the buses operate, according to AEA. Also under consideration were the presence of at-risk communities exposed to these pollutants, cost effectiveness at reducing NOx and voluntary matching funds.

“By replacing older engines with new technologies, the school buses will help improve air quality in these areas of the state,” said AEA Executive Director Curtis W. Thayer in a news release. “The new buses will result in a reduction of 24.6 short tons of NOx and 1.8 short tons of fine particulate matter over the remaining lifetimes of the replaced school buses.”

As part of the replacement program, McGregor said the buses must be used in the same manner as the vehicles they are replacing for at least five years.

Also, per the grant’s stipulations, it will be the end of the line for the old buses.

“They have to destroy the existing bus,” McGregor said.

• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at 907-523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt

More in News

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File
The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014.
Aurora Forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of March. 19

Hoonah’s Masters Bracket team poses for a group photo on Saturday after being crowned this year’s champs for the M bracket in the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament at JDHS. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Hoonah crowned Gold Medal Masters Bracket champs

Hoonah’s Albert Hinchman named MVP.

President Joe Biden speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, March 23, 2023, celebrating the 13th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. Recent moves by President Joe Biden to pressure TikTok over its Chinese ownership and approve oil drilling in an untapped area of Alaska are testing the loyalty of young voters, a group that’s been largely in his corner. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Biden’s moves on Willow, TikTok test young voters

A potential TikTok ban and the Alaska drilling could weigh down reelection bid.

Students dance their way toward exiting the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé gymnasium near the end of a performance held before a Gold Medal Basketball Tournament game between Juneau and Hydaburg. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Over $2,500 raised for Tlingit language and culture program during Gold Medal performance

A flurry of regionwide generosity generated the funds in a matter of minutes.

Legislative fiscal analysts Alexei Painter, right, and Conor Bell explain the state’s financial outlook during the next decade to the Senate Finance Committee on Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Legislators eye oil and sales taxes due to fiscal woes

Bills to collect more from North Slope producers, enact new sales taxes get hearings next week.

The FBI Anchorage Field Office is seeking information about this man in relation to a Wednesday bank robbery in Anchorage, the agency announced Thursday afternoon. Anyone with information regarding the bank robbery can contact the FBI Anchorage Field Office at 907-276-4441 or tips.fbi.gov. Tips can be submitted anonymously.  (FBI)
FBI seeks info in Anchorage bank robbery

The robbery took place at 1:24 p.m. on Wednesday.

Kevin Maier
Sustainable Alaska: Climate stories, climate futures

The UAS Sustainability Committee is hosting a series of public events in April…

Reps. Tom McKay, R-Anchorage, and Andi Story, D-Juneau, offering competing amendments to a bill increasing the per-student funding formula for public schools by $1,250 during a House Education Committee meeting Wednesday morning. McKay’s proposal to lower the increase to $150 was defeated. Story’s proposal to implement an increase during the next two years was approved, after her proposed amounts totalling about $1,500 were reduced to $800.
Battle lines for education funding boost get clearer

$800 increase over two years OKd by House committee, Senate proposing $1,348 two-year increase

C Bracket champions Filcom pose with their trophy. (left to right) Charlie Herrington, Alex Heumann, Tom Gizler, Adam Brown, Mike Lim, Andrew Malacas, Nino Bohulano, Ray Zimmer, Larry Cooper, Ronin Tagsip and Jason Haskell at the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament, Saturday, March 25, at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Klas Stolpe/For the Juneau Empire)
Juneau’s Filcom wins Gold Medal C Bracket Championship

Filcom caps undefeated tournament run with 73-49 win over Klukwan

Most Read