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Norwich to receive $2 million grant for alternative fuel station, new vehicles

Norwich — The city will receive $2.08 million in federal transportation funds to build a retail compressed natural gas fueling station, purchase several natural gas-powered vehicles and help three local private entities convert vehicles to compressed natural gas.

The funding is part of $20 million in federal grants to nine Connecticut cities for transportation projects announced by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Wednesday. No other southeastern Connecticut town received funding through the grant.

Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda called the grant "a home run" for the city, as it provides funding for a previously announced plan to build a retail fueling station off West Town Street on the former River Run Nursery property. But Bilda said the utility is considering that property and other sites for the project.

NPU also will use the funding to purchase seven new compressed natural gas vehicles of varying sizes — two bucket trucks, two utility vans, one heavy duty dump truck and two general purpose vehicles, including an electric car and a natural gas van.

NPU also has an agreement with Levine Distributing, Prime Electric and The William W. Backus Hospital to convert part of their vehicle fleets to compressed natural gas. The grant will fund the incremental costs of those upgrades, Bilda said.

Backus Chief Administrator Officer Keith Fontaine said Backus would use the funding to convert three of the hospital's seven vans, used to transport employees and equipment, to "clean-burning natural gas."

Officials at Prime and Levine Distributing were not available for comment Wednesday.

More details about the Norwich project are expected to be announced next week, Bilda said.

"While these projects will produce environmental and transportation benefits, they will also provide jobs and help spur economic growth," said Malloy, who was named last month as lead governor for transportation by the Coalition of Northeastern Governors.

In that role, Malloy serves as the chief coordinator for advocacy and policy advancement of transportation initiatives for CONEG, a nonpartisan association of the governors of the seven northeastern states.

The grant was awarded under the Federal Highway Administration's competitive Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, which funds projects that improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion. To qualify, municipalities must demonstrate that their projects will result in reduced vehicle exhaust emissions and, at the same time, be cost-effective.

Bilda thanked state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, co-chairman of the Transportation Committee, and state Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, whose district includes Norwich, for assistance in obtaining the grant.

c.bessette@theday.com

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