By SHAUN KIRBY
WARWICK — State officials and local businessmen gathered on Tuesday at Goddard Park to support Questions 5 and 6 on the upcoming ballot for November’s election. The two items, which have already passed through the General Assembly, would provide $40 million in bond support for clean water and open space initiatives throughout the state.
“The Nature Conservancy, Save The Bay and a group of very dedicated partners have been working very diligently for the last 18 months to arrive at this point, with support from many people around the state,” said Jonathan Stone, Executive Director of Save The Bay. “We are truly blessed with extraordinary natural resources, and people generations before us made investments in them. They made hard decisions, and it is never easy to get funding to receive open space and clean water grants.”
“Today, we are at another pivotal moment in time to make these investments for all Rhode Islanders and those who visit, work, or pass through our beautiful state,” he added. “Approving these bonds will go a long was in continuing to ensure those resources.”
Question 5 will pose $20 million for a Clean Water bond to the voters, $12 million of which would be used to update wastewater facilities across the state. The remaining $8 million would be invested into the state’s drinking water revolving fund, which supports improvements to water supply infrastructure, such as fixing aging pumps and pipes, in Rhode Island.
“Nothing happens singly at one point in time, but is rather developmental and takes place over a period of time,” said Tony Simeone, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Agency (RICWFA). “That is exceptionally true when improving the water quality of our state, which requires a serious and constant application of our resources.”
The funding for wastewater improvements aims to increase standards regarding water quality in municipalities, as well as protecting flood zone areas and managing storm water pollution. Wastewater projects account for $1.257 million of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM)’s project priority list. RICWFA, established in 1989 as a conduit organization for to aid municipalities’ wastewater improvements, has a list of ready projects costing $168 million, only $68,295,000 of which can currently be funded.
“We apply for federal grants from the EPA and the state has to commit an irrevocable 20 percent match to that grant, so that is what this $20 million is for,” said Simeone. “If that $20 million represents our 20 percent match, we can qualify for 100 million in federal grants, and all of our loans are pooled so that the cost is shared.”
“Our effort is paid for through fees charged for doing loans, and even those are very low,” he added. “You can see that although $68 million is a significant number, what we can afford to finance and what we really need pales by comparison, so it is extremely important.”
The $8 million will provide the state Drinking Water Revolving Fund with monies to update treatment, pumping, transportation, and storage facilities throughout the state. Over the next 15 years, $838 million will be needed for capital projects of 28 major water suppliers. The funding may also be used to develop new drinking water supplies and increase water efficiency.
Question 6 seeks to establish the Local Farm, Open Space, and Recreation Bond, signaling an investment of $25 million to protect Rhode Island’s farmlands, improve the state’s parks and beach facilities, and provide monies to assist the preservation of watershed areas. Rupert Friday, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Land Trust Council (RILTC), stated that Rhode Island has lost 80 percent of its farmland since 1940, although preserving these landscapes contribute in a number of ways to the betterment of the Rhode Island community.
“Rhode Island farmland is the most expensive in the country,” said Friday in March. “There are a fair number of young farmers trying to start out, but affording the costs is a challenge. This bond keeps them doing it.”
“We need a match for federal funds, and this money helps to provide that match, protecting our farmland,” he added. “A lot of restaurants are promoting locally-grown foods, which is a growing part of the Rhode Island economy. If you go to the farmers markets in North or South Kingstown, the importance of local farms and the community around it is evident.”
About $4.5 million of the bond will be allotted to RIDEM’s Farmland Protection Program for the purchase of development rights of working farms, and $2.5 million will be used for Local Open Space Protection grants to support community efforts to protect, develop and plan for Rhode Island’s open areas. Another $2.5 million will be dedicated to RIDEM’s Land Acquisition Program, which protects lands within state parks and management areas, as well as give RIDEM purchasing power for important properties.
On Tuesday, local business representatives spoke to the importance of the public’s approval of Questions 5 and 6 at November’s elections.
“I am a commercial shell fisherman and can’t wait to get up in the morning,” said Jody King, former President of the Rhode Island Shellfishermen’s Association. “Shellfishing is what I have done for the past 20 years, and today we are working together to achieve one thing, clean water, which makes it possible for me to go do what I do every day.”
“The pride of this morning’s catch isn’t my quahogs, but what I caught as a by-catch, one and two year old scallops that are telling me the Bay is getting cleaner and cleaner every day,” he added. “Quahogs are the only fish that Rhode Island can lay claim to as their own, so we need to partner with all these communities to make sure our watershed is clean. I want to come back here in 20 years and say it is better than today.”