RHODE ISLAND – In less than a month, Rhode Islanders will be deciding whether or not to authorize $400 million in bond funding — $47 million of which would go a long way towards green initiatives.
If approved by the voters on March 2, the Beach, Clean Water and Green Bond, which will appear as Question 2 on the special election ballot, will fund eight different initiatives.
“Green bonds support everything I love about Rhode Island, and many people love about Rhode Island,” said Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit. “The clean blue waters, the parks, our open spaces, the vibrancy and diversity of our communities.”
The greatest portion of the bond calls for a “once in a generation investment in our state beaches, parks and campgrounds for $33 million,” according to Coit, along with $15 million to be funded towards clean drinking water and $7 million for municipal resiliency.
Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner sat alongside Coit last week, at least virtually, during the “YESon2RI” campaign kickoff — which has brought together a number of allies in this cause.
“In the treasurer’s office, we know a good investment when we see one,” Magaziner said, “and investing in Rhode Island’s green and blue spaces is an absolutely vital investment. It will pay dividends for years to come.”
The general treasurer acknowledged the difficult times everyone is facing due to the pandemic, but advocated for “bold initiatives that will put Rhode Islanders to work, and make our economy more competitive over the long run.” According to Magaziner, the passage of this bond comes with numerous benefits, including hundreds of new jobs, improvements to the tourism industry and the agricultural sector and an overall improvement to quality of life.
Investments in municipal resilience, especially considering the challenges we are already facing because of climate change, he argued, will be in the best interest of all Rhode Island. Warren Town Manager Kate Michaud echoed these comments, referencing statistics that claim each dollar spent toward improvements, rather than fixes, saves taxpayers $6 in the long run.
In the Ocean State, both Magaziner and Michaud emphasized the importance of preparing our infrastructure for the adverse effects of climate change. Investments like this, according to Michaud, will benefit every community in Rhode Island – even some of the smallest ones.
House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (Dist. 23 – Warwick), who recently succeeded Nicholas Mattiello after Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung successfully challenged his seat in November, has also thrown his support behind the bond.
“It’s not easy in these difficult times to send money, but I tend to agree with Treasurer Magaziner — now is the time,” Shekarchi said, noting that the $47 million bond is just a portion of the $400 million in funding the General Assembly has been able to appropriate for bonding. “It’s critically important that we do it at this time.”
The speaker also highlighted statistics put out by the University of Rhode Island, which project that the state’s major recreation facilities draw in 9.4 million visits, $311 million in consumer spending and 3,709 jobs annually.
“There are times we can be very supportive of the economy by also supporting the environment,” Shekarchi said. “We need to recognize that.”
Other projects that would be funded through the bonds approval include $4 million for local recreation, $3 million for preserving natural and working lands, $4 million for further development of I-195 Park in Providence and $2 million in funding for the Woonasquatucket River Watershed.
According to Coit, the $2 million in funding will help a water council “that has done so much work to revitalize an urban greenway through many of our communities.”
She emphasized that the Wass River isn’t just a Providence issue — it starts in North Smithfield and runs through Gloucester, Smithfield, North Providence and Johnston.”
“It is really one of the amazing stories of revitalization, of taking back a waterway and allowing a community to rediscover a beautiful, beautiful urban river,” Coit said. “It’s always teeming with life because of the Wassapenuck Rivershed Council.”
Investments in more recreational opportunities have been of particular importance during this past year, she added, since many Rhode Islanders have been turning to the outdoors to help them through difficult times.
Water Council Member Jenn Recinos emphasized revitalization efforts as important for future Rhode Islanders, so they can play in the same parks she did as a child.
“My favorite thing about living in Rhode Island is access to beaches and parks,” Recinos said, “but what good is that if we can’t swim in the water and eat the fish from the sea?”
Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (Dist. 1 – Providence) has also voiced her support for the $47 million bond — partially the $6 million that will go towards the Providence River Dredging project.
“The providence river really, really needs this dredging,” Goodwin said. “Not only for the cleanup of all the debris that we have, but also, I want to point out, so we can continue and expand Waterfires.”
“I will be lending my voice, everywhere I go, and asking folks all across Rhode Island in every forum I get to support Question 2,” she said. “It’s so vitally, vitally needed for our great state.”
The Ocean State has already come a long way in projecting our waterways over the past several decades, according to Topher Hamblett of Save the Bay, and this bond will help to ensure that legacy.
“It will put Rhode Islander to work protecting what’s best about our state,” Hamblett said. “Rhode Island voters have always stepped up when given the opportunity to vote for clean water. It’s who we are.”
“If you want clean water, vote yes on 2,” he added. “If you love Narragansett Bay, vote yes on 2. If you want to leave clean water and a healthy environment for future generations of Rhode Islanders who are dealing with climate change, vote yes on 2. This is an important movement in our state’s history.”