Centre County approves grant applications for natural gas vehicles, preventing sexual violence

Centre County took another step toward the implementation of natural gas-powered vehicles Tuesday.

The Board of Commissioners approved a grant application with the state that would allow the county to purchase four handicapped-accessible mini-bus vans and convert them to natural gas power. The grant total is $290,000 with $216,000 from the federal government and $74,000 from the state.

They would be the first four in the Centre County fleet, but Transportation Director Dave Lomision said officials look to have eight gas-power vehicles by the end of next year.

“Our hope would be to go all natural gas at some point down the road,” he said, adding that goal is much further off.

Lomision said the current price of natural gas is 92 cents per fuel gallon equivalent, which he said would be “phenomenal” for the county’s budget.

Putting fuel in the vehicles could be a minor problem in the short term because there are no public fueling facilities, but Lomision is hoping there will be one by the end of next year. The county has had talks with the Centre Area Transportation Authority about using its refueling facility in the short term.

Once such infrastructure is in place, Lomision expects a big push from both the county and private residents on converting some vehicles to natural gas.

Chairman Steve Dershem suggested the possible development of a low-volume fueling station for county use to refuel vehicles overnight.

Converted vehicles are more environmentally friendly in addition to cheaper to operate, Commissioner Chris Exarchos said.

“The emissions that come out of the exhaust pipe are a lot cleaner,” he said.

Lomision said because the engines burn cleaner, they can run longer without needing as much maintenance and repair.

The board also approved the continuation of the STOP Violence Against Women Grant application, which provides state funding to issues connected to domestic abuse and sexual assault. The grant total is $145,000, with a $125,000 state funding and a $10,00 cash match from both the county and State College Borough.

About 51 percent of the funding does to the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, 26 percent to the district attorney’s office for prosecution, and 23 percent to local law enforcement to crack down on the issues, grant administrator Dawn McKee said.

In fiscal year, 2011-2012 the Women’s Resource Center saw 918 domestic violence cases, helped in 190 protection from abuse orders and saw 186 people who were sexually assaulted.

Those numbers didn’t include cases from people who didn’t report the crimes or sought help elsewhere, she said.

Centre County has been receiving the grant since its inception in the mid-1980s.